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Preventing Falls in Older Adults

Reducing falls in older adult patients

Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries among adults 65 and older. Each year, more than 3 million seniors go to the emergency department due to fall injuries.

Falls can be a sign of declining health. They can also be the start of a downward spiral leading to a loss of mobility. Many people have personal experiences or they’ve heard stories about seniors breaking a hip and never regaining independence.

Too often, people become less active after a fall, leading to further muscle weakness and a greater risk of falls in the future. Even the fear of another fall can become a barrier to staying active.

The CDC STEADI program has published fall prevention brochures and downloadable documents written in easy-to-read language. Many focus on three primary risk factors for falls in older adults.

Risks associated with health

  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor balance or dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Loss of sensation in the feet
  • Some health conditions or medications can increase fall risk. Ask your doctor for a gait study.

Risks within the home

  • Lack of grab bars or proper seating in the shower or tub
  • Tripping or slipping hazards, especially at night
  • Inadequate stair rails

Risks associated with behavior

  • Not understanding physical limitations, especially when using stools or ladders
  • Inactivity
  • Not understanding the side effects or timing of medications

Take steps to prevent falls

Stay active

A daily walk down the block or around the house can improve strength, balance and foot sensations. Even seniors who are less mobile can benefit from chair exercises or moving with a walker or gait belt. Older adults may need motivation and help from a family member. Starting a daily routine of movement can promote a stronger body and mind.

Free risk assessment

Many people don’t realize Medicare covers a fall risk assessment in their annual wellness visit. Older patients may need help from a family member or caregiver to implement the recommendations in a risk assessment.

Sensible footwear

Socks or floppy slippers are a fall waiting to happen, especially during the night when it is dark and seniors may be groggy. Well-fitting shoes or slippers with rubber soles are usually best. If someone shuffles to walk, they’ll need further attention to stay mobile.

Basic home updates to prevent falls in the elderly

  • Remove rugs when possible.
  • Use bath seats and high-quality non-slip bath mats in bathrooms
  • Install grab bars at the tub, shower and toilet
  • Improve lighting, especially night lighting
  • Raised toilet seats
  • Two hand rails for stairways

Ask your doctor for a referral to occupational therapy. Many therapists are trained in fall prevention.