What are the risks of falls?
The chances of falling increase as you get
older. About half the falls older people have are due to
accidents, and about half are health-related. Most falls
result in a quick recovery. However, some falls,
particularly those that result in fractures, cause permanent
disability and can even shorten lives.
Falls cause more bone fractures in older
people because osteoporosis (weak bones) affects 1 in 4
women age 60 or older and nearly half of all people over age
75. By the age of 90, 1 woman in 4 has fallen and fractured
her hip. For people living alone and unable to get up, falls
can result in hypothermia (loss of body temperature),
pneumonia, and sometimes death. A serious fall often brings
about a loss of confidence, fear of falling, and a
dependence on others.
How do falls occur?
As you get older, eyesight and hearing
decline. Reflexes tend to be slow. There is less
coordination and muscle strength to take action in avoiding
a fall. Medical conditions like heart disease or low blood
pressure can affect balance. Medicines or the use of alcohol
may cause lightheadedness. Arthritis can throw you off
balance, and osteoporosis can weaken bones so that they
break easily. In addition, people often aren't aware of the
fall hazards they have in their homes.
What are the symptoms that may lead to
Feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness, or
weakness may be present if there is an underlying medical
problem. On the other hand, the fall itself may be the first
symptom of serious illness, such as a heart attack, stroke,
internal bleeding, or pneumonia. It may also be the first
sign of a serious drinking problem. A fall that causes a
bone fracture may be the first sign of osteoporosis.
What should I do after a fall?
Call your health care provider or your
emergency number after a fall, even if there appears to be
little or no injury. It is possible to fracture a hip and
still be able to get up. Also, head injuries can be very
serious. In addition, a fall may be the first symptom of
other serious illness. Your health care provider will
examine you and may order x-rays or other tests.
How can I take care of myself?
Have your vision and hearing checked
regularly and, if necessary, corrected.
Increase the lighting in your home,
inside and out.
Use a cane or walker if advised to do
If you are on medicine, take it
regularly and as directed.
Tell your health care provider if you
think your medicine affects your balance or causes
If you are overweight, talk to your
provider about weight control.
Exercise daily to keep muscles in tone
and help prevent osteoporosis.
Eat calcium-rich food, such as dairy
products and green vegetables, to help prevent
Preventing falls in your home
Homes can be full of fall hazards. Common
ones include slippery floors, worn rugs and stair treads,
furniture in the way, poor lighting, and trailing electric
Try to have nonslip floors. Use nonskid
mats, especially on floors that may get wet.
Carpet and stair treads should be tacked
down firmly. Replace or cover worn areas on carpet or
Use good lighting. Have light switches
at both ends of stairs and hallways.
Have a small night light on in case you
need to get up at night.
Don't have loose or trailing electric
cords across the floors.
Arrange furniture so it is not in the
way when you walk around the house.
Install grab bars for the bathtub,
shower, and toilet.
Don't use a long bathrobe you can trip
Store food and regularly used items
where they can be easily reached.
Preventing falls in your daily activities
Get up slowly after lying down or
resting. Sit down if you feel lightheaded.
Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes that
Eat a healthy, low-fat, balanced diet,
with plenty of fiber. Don't go without food.
Eat three or four smaller meals a day,
rather than a single, large meal.
Exercise daily to keep muscles firm and
joints flexible. Stop and rest if you feel faint.
Limit your use of alcohol.
Be careful if you have pets that might
trip you or push you down when playing.