What you can do to reduce the risk of falls as you get older

September 10, 2019 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD

As you get older, your risk of falling and getting injured increases. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four adults in the U.S. over the age of 65 reported falling and one in 10 reported getting injured in a fall in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Falls can cause serious injuries including broken bones, hip fractures, and head injuries.

A recent study highlighted how devasting these falls can be. The study found that more than 25,000 adults in the U.S. who were age 75 or older died from a fall in 2016, an increase from 8,600 deaths in 2000. Even people who aren’t seriously injured by their fall can experience problems such as becoming fearful of falling and limiting their activities, which in turn curtails their independence and increases their risk of depression.

But falling isn’t just a natural part of getting older. There are a number of factors that can increase your fall risk and steps you can take to lower your risk.

What increases your fall risk?

The most common factors that lead to falls for older people include:

  • A decrease in coordination, flexibility, and balance caused by being inactive
  • Vision problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration that make tripping hazards harder to see and avoid
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications that cause dehydration and dizziness, such as blood pressure medications, medications to treat overactive bladder, sleeping pills, certain cold medications, and other medicines
  • Foot and joint problems such as arthritis and diabetic neuropathy, as well as wearing ill-fitting shoes or shoes like flip flops and high heels
  • A cluttered home environment

Strategies to help you avoid falls

To build a plan to lower your risk of falls, start by talking with your primary care doctor. Let him or her know if you’ve fallen or experienced episodes of dizziness, feel unsteady on your feet, or have joint pain that makes it difficult to move from a sitting to standing position or walk with a steady gait. Other strategies to lower your risk of falling include:

  • Reviewing all your medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and any supplements you take with your doctor and making sure you still need to take all the medications, the medications don’t cause interactions, and you’re taking the right dose for your age and weight
  • Doing regular exercise to improve your balance and strengthen the muscles in your legs such as tai chi or asking your doctor if physical therapy might help with your balance and gait
  • Getting an eye exam every year or more often if you notice new vision problems
  • Asking your primary care doctor for recommendations on safer footwear choices and if you should see a podiatrist
  • Decluttering your home, making sure you have adequate lighting throughout your home, removing throw rugs and other tripping hazards, and installing grab bars in the tub or shower and next to the toilet
  • Using a cane or walker if recommended by your doctor or physical therapist and making sure you’ve been trained to use it the right way
  • Asking for help from friends and family or a hiring a home healthcare provider to help with tasks that pose a fall risk like carrying groceries and lawn care