Falling can leave anyone with scrapes and bruises. But as you get older, the consequences become more serious. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for people ages 65 and over.1
Overall, one out of every five falls causes a serious injury, such as a head trauma or broken bones, and more than 800,000 people are hospitalized each year because of such injuries.2
Fortunately most falls can be prevented. To stay upright and reduce the risk of spills, the National Council on Aging recommends taking a multi-pronged approach.3 Here are some smart fall-prevention strategies:
As people age, they tend to lose coordination, flexibility, and balance, which can lead to falls. Different types of balance, gait, and strength training can help improve these abilities.
Tai chi and physical therapy are particularly powerful tools for reducing fall risk. Also consider community-based programs. Ask your Area Agency on Aging (link opens in new window) to point you to resources in your community.
Simple changes in a person's environment can often make a home safer and help prevent falls. Add secure handrails on both sides of the stairwell and grab bars in the tub/shower and next to the toilet. If need be, buy a shower chair.
Increase lighting throughout the house. Avoid throw rugs and be sure that larger rugs have skid-proof backs or are tacked to the floor. Keep rooms free from clutter.4, 5
In older eyes, less light reaches the retina, making it harder to see obstacles and tripping hazards. Older adults should get an eye exam each year and have prescriptions updated when needed. Keep in mind that bifocals can challenge your vision when you are walking up or down stairs and that tinted lenses can cause problems when going from the bright sun into dark buildings.6
Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, confusion, and other negative effects that increase the risk of falls. Heart medications, blood pressure medicine, diuretics, sleeping pills and muscle relaxants are particularly risky.7 Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications every year to see if any could make you dizzy or sleepy—big fall risk factors—and be sure to bring up any medication side effects that are bothering you. Sometimes your doctor can stop a medication without causing a problem.8
The National Council on Aging says that four in five seniors have at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes, arthritis, or stroke, which can result in falls.9 Such problems can lead to inactivity, a loss of function, depression, pain, or the need for several medications. Better control of such conditions might help to reduce fall risk.
Find more tips for preventing falls here.