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For Seniors: How to Prevent Falls

As you age, your risk for falling increases. According to the CDC, more than one-third of people ages 65 and older and half of those ages 75 and older fall each year. Although most falls cause only minor injuries, the CDC estimates that between 20% and 30% of the people who fall experience moderate to severe injuries (such as bone fractures) that severely limit independence. The risk is even greater for people who have fallen within the past year.

Falls can occur anywhere, but most occur in the home. They can occur while climbing stairs, or getting out of the bathtub, for instance.

Special risks

People who are at higher risk for falls include older women and people with the following conditions: weakness in feet or legs; problems with walking and balance; arthritis, especially in the knee; Parkinson disease; dementia; problems with hearing or vision; dehydration; low blood pressure that causes poor blood flow to the brain; and taking multiple medications. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for falls.

Older age increases the risk for falling because your senses dim and your nervous system begins to deteriorate. You can't see as well. The balance mechanism in your ears becomes less accurate. Heart disease, diabetes, and thyroid conditions can affect your sense of balance. Many older adults are less active than they were when younger. This sedentary lifestyle can lead to muscle weakness, which also can lead to falls.

An older person with osteoporosis who falls is more likely to fracture a bone. Even a minor fall can cause a bone to break.

What to do

You can take steps to reduce your risk for falling. Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • Get your hearing and vision checked regularly; begin check ups before you notice problems.

  • Talk with your doctor about your medication therapy to make sure it is not causing you to feel dizzy.

  • Tell your doctor or health care provider if you are experiencing balance problems. Ask if your symptoms require a fall-risk assessment.

  • Let your doctor know if you have fallen in the last year and the circumstances surrounding the incident.

  • Try not to stand up quickly. This can cause you to feel dizzy and possibly fall. Before standing, wiggle your toes and feet, and swing your legs, if possible.  Move enough to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, then stand up. 

  • If you feel unsteady on your feet, use a cane or walker. Wear shoes with nonslip soles.

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise helps strengthen your muscles and improve your agility. Talk with your doctor about what types of exercise might be appropriate for you.

  • Wear safe footwear. 

  • Limit your consumption of alcohol.

  • Keep your home free of clutter. Add handrails in your home where needed, such as grab bars in the shower and supports on either side of the toilet. Improve the lighting in dark areas that might cause you to fall. Use a nightlight if you get out of bed at night. Eliminate slippery floors and throw rugs.

For more information, please refer to the CDC's Fall Prevention resources.