Getting older can mean making small changes to maintain your health. Many seniors make lifestyle changes like limiting red meat, cutting down on alcohol and getting more exercise during the week. While many people are familiar with these types of lifestyle changes, one area often goes overlooked – fall prevention.

Each year in the United States, 2.5 million people aged 65 or older have to seek help in an emergency room after a fall. Of that number, about 700,000 are admitted to the hospital.

In this article, I’m going to talk about the common risks for falling, tips for elderly fall prevention and when to talk to your doctor about your risk of falling.

Who is at risk of falls?

Seniors are the most at risk for dangerous falls. Older adults are more likely to experience a fall that results in a severe injury. In some cases, falls can even be fatal.

In fact, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among adults aged 65 and older. While this is a staggering statistic, it’s important to keep in mind that falls are often preventable.

Why falls are a health risk for seniors

As we age, we may lose bone density. This means that our bones become more fragile over time. The older we get, the more likely it is that a slip on the ice or missing the last stair can result in a broken bone or head injury. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls.

Falls can also affect mental health. If you’re injured in a fall, you might have difficulty recovering or not be as mobile as you were before the injury. It’s also common to develop a fear of falls, keeping you from moving throughout the day and doing the things you love. This can cause depression, anxiety and boredom.

Factors that increase your risk of falls

Understanding what puts you at risk of falling is the first step to fall prevention. Common factors that increase your risk of falling include taking certain medicines, certain chronic health conditions, physical inactivity, low levels of vitamin D and poor vision.

Medicines can increase your fall risk

Many medicines can affect your alertness, gait and balance. In most cases, the more types of medicines you take, the more likely it is that they will cause side effects that make you more likely to fall.

As we get older, it’s more common to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) and other heart conditions. Anti-hypertensive medicines are often prescribed to keep blood pressure levels under control and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. However, these medicines may cause your blood pressure to drop too low. When blood pressure is too low, you may feel faint or light-headed, making you more likely to fall.

There are also several medicines your doctor might prescribe that can suppress your central nervous system. When the central nervous system is suppressed, you’ll feel less alert, move more slowly and have slower reaction times. Some types of anti-anxiety medicines, prescription sleep aids, antidepressants, antihistamines and medicines used to treat an overactive bladder are just a few of the medicines that can increase your risk of falls.

When you’re prescribed a new type of medicine, make sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects. If you’re taking several medications, consider making an appointment with a medication therapy management (MTM) pharmacist.

A MTM pharmacist will talk with you to make sure that your medicines are working together as they should so you can feel at your best. We work hand-in-hand with your doctor and other members of your care team. And they can often even find lower cost options for the medicines you’ve been prescribed.

Chronic health conditions can limit mobility

Some chronic health conditions can affect your balance. If you have diabetes, low blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis, a history of stroke, or vision and hearing loss, you’re at a higher risk of falling. In fact, having multiple chronic health conditions increases your risk of falling even more.

The National Council on Aging reports that 67% of people in fall prevention treatment programs report having more than one chronic health issue. The most common health conditions reported are arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.

Getting the proper care to help you manage your conditions can help manage your fall risk. Do your best to have regular visits to your doctors so you can keep your treatments up to date.

A sedentary lifestyle contributes to falls

When you don’t move, it leads to muscle weakness and slower reflexes. Exercising and stretching regularly will help you build strength. It will also improve your balance and coordination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that seniors (adults age 65+) get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.

Even taking small steps to be more active throughout the day can lead to big improvements in your health. Try starting simple, like walking a bit more every day. And remember to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Low levels of vitamin D increase risk of falls

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps regulate calcium and protein in the muscles. When you don’t get enough vitamin D, you can develop muscle weakness, poor balance and other health issues. Doctors have found that low levels of vitamin D make seniors more likely to fall.

Taking a vitamin D supplement can be effective in elderly fall prevention. In most cases, the recommended amount of vitamin D a day for adults 70+ is 800 IU. Ask your doctor if about your vitamin D levels and if supplements are right for you.

Poor eyesight, blindness and vision changes

Changes to your eyesight make it more difficult for you to see tripping hazards that might be in your way. Make sure you’re getting your vision checked at least once a year – because a lot of us are affected by unexpected eyesight changes at some point during our lives. Update your glasses or contact lenses if your prescription changes.

An older man using a cane enjoys a walk through the park with his wife and daughter.

How to protect the elderly from falls

While falls can be dangerous, they’re often preventable. Making simple changes to your home, standing up slowly, using assistive devices, making healthy lifestyle changes and starting a fall prevention physical therapy program can help.

13 ways to prevent falls at home

Our doctors have found there’s a lot in common between the homes of many older folks who have ended up in our emergency room. What things are at the top of that list? Bad lighting, slippery rugs and unreachable storage spaces.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent falls at home:

  • Always keep the floor and stairs free of objects
  • Fix broken, loose or uneven steps
  • Add a light switch at the top and bottom of stairs
  • Make sure carpet is firmly secured
  • Fix or replace loose handrails
  • Arrange furniture so there are clear walking paths
  • Remove throw rugs or secure rugs with nonslip backing
  • Tape loose cords to the wall or floor, or coil them up when not in use
  • Never use a chair as a step stool, use a step stool with a bar you can hold onto
  • Use nightlights throughout the house so you can see where you’re walking
  • Use a nonslip rubber mat or grip strips in the bathtub or shower
  • Add a grab bar next to the tub, shower and toilet
  • Keep things you often use on lower shelves

Stand up slowly

Standing up quickly can cause a temporary drop in blood pressure. This can make you feel faint or wobbly. Stand up slowly to prevent this, especially after you’ve been sitting for a while.

Use an assistive device while walking

Walkers and canes can support you while walking and help you feel steadier. They’re great to use when walking somewhere new or somewhere with an uneven surface. Ask your doctor if you’d like to use an assistive device while you walk. We’ll help guide you to the option that will work best for you.

Make healthy lifestyle changes

Like with all other aspects of your health, eating well and getting good nutrition goes hand in hand with maintaining your physical fitness. Strive to include a protein source at every meal. And get enough calcium and vitamin D. Also limit how much alcohol you drink. It can interact negatively with medications and make you unsteady on your feet.

Starting a fitness plan can also help improve your overall balance and mobility. Walk a little bit each day and talk to your doctor about ways to build your physical fitness levels.

Join a Fall Prevention and Balance Program

The TRIA Fall Prevention and Balance Program helps seniors prevent falls and move with confidence. This program was created for adults 65+, and it is the best fit for seniors who are unsteady while moving.

During this physical therapist-guided program, you’ll work on exercises, stretches and specialized training to improve your balance, strength and coordination. One session typically lasts an hour.

When to see your doctor for senior fall prevention and balance

Healing becomes more complex as we age, so it’s important to check in with your doctor about your risk of falling. When you visit your doctor for a senior health appointment, ask us about your individual fall risk and what you can do to keep yourself safe and healthy.

If you do fall, see a doctor right away. Even if you don’t have any noticeable symptoms, we’ll check you for injuries.

Bone health is an important part of our overall well-being. Protect yours by preventing falls!