Falls can have a massive effect on the elderly population, by destroying confidence and thus reducing independence. In fact, 1 in 10 older people who have fallen, become afraid to leave their homes in case they fall again which leads to increased inactivity and social isolation. 1 In the UK, falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75.2
But the big question is: What causes us to fall?
We fall when something happens which challenges our balance and strength. If the experience overpowers us, we fall over!
Significant risk factors for falls include:
Health based risks
- Polypharmacy is defined as the use of four or more medications per day and is linked with a significantly increased risk of falling because of the side effects e.g. dizziness, associated with multiple medication use.3 That is why it is so important to have regular work ups with you GP or Falls clinic to prevent this from happening.
- Muscle weakness can result in poor balance and instability. So, staying active and exercising is an absolute must! Strength and balance exercise classes are a very good place to start.
- Although many factors have been linked with falls, visual impairment is one of the most important. However, failing eyesight doesn’t need to be an inevitable consequence of ageing. Regular eye exams can detect any problems long before lasting visual deterioration takes place.4
- There can be a higher risk of falls with certain specific conditions/chronic illnesses including cognitive impairment, arthritis, diabetes, post stroke and Parkinson’s disease. After a stroke, falls can be quite common because of sensory loss, leg/foot weakness and problems with eyesight. In fact, up to 73% of stroke survivors fall in the first 6 months after leaving hospital. People with Parkinson’s disease sometimes fall because of poor balance, arms not swinging when they walk, taking too small steps and involuntary movements which can be a side effect of some medications.5
Again, attending appropriate strength and conditioning exercise classes specifically designed to help prevent falls, can be beneficial for all these conditions.
- Falls can also be a sign of underlying health issues such as frailty. According to the British Geriatric Society’s blog, ‘Fit for Frailty’, frailty describes a condition where the body’s reserve capacity is limited, meaning that severe deterioration can occur with only minor illness or change to the status quo. However, evidence is evolving that as part of a comprehensive care plan, suitable exercise and nutrition can improve frailty thus reducing vulnerability.6
- You are more likely to have another fall if you have fallen in the last year as it makes you excessively cautious and consequently, less active.
Environmental based risks
- Home hazards such as loose throws and rugs, trailing wires, clutter and spills can increase the risk of falling.
- Outside hazards such as uneven paving and icy paths can result in falls.
- Poorly fitting footwear/high heels are a definite no!
- Improper use of cane/walker can be a trip hazard.
- Sudden or random events which challenge your balance and strength can cause you to fall e.g. dog pulling the lead strongly.
- A drop in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) in a person with diabetes can make you dizzy and likely to fall.
We appreciate that this is a lot of information to take in. Some of it may seem overwhelming or too difficult to succeed on your own but we are here for you. So if you have any questions or queries, we not contact us:
- Help the Aged, 2008, Spotlight Report 2008
- Polypharmacy and falls in the middle age and elderly population Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 61(2):218-23 · February 2006
- The Importance of Vision in Preventing Falls. The College of Optometrists, 2011.