senior couple and cane

Movies and television usually depict a slip and fall as comical and lighthearted, but for seniors, falls are no laughing matter. Read on to learn about the anatomy of a fall and preventing slips, trips and falls in the elderly.

Every 18 seconds, an older adult has to go to the emergency room because of a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls can be devastating for seniors, often causing injuries that take months to heal. These traumatic events can be devastating for the spouses and family of seniors as well, as they must shoulder the caregiving burden during recovery and rehabilitation.

Anatomy of a Fall

There are multiple reasons seniors slip and fall. The most common cause of a fall is the environment. A poorly-lit stairway, obstructive extension cords, or a hard-to-see coffee table are all risks around the house that can easily cause a fall. Other causes include problems with balance,a  shuffling gait that causes you to trip over the edge of the carpet or bump into that pile of magazines you left on the floor. Vision problems, mental confusion, and bouts of dizziness from a reaction to medication can also cause falls.

Understanding Senior Slips and Falls

Unfortunately, many seniors suffer from more than embarrassment when they take a fall. Between 20 and 30 percent of seniors who have fallen suffer severe injuries such as broken bones, head trauma, or other wounds, according to the CDC. Injuries can be more than severe: in 2009, about 20,400 older adults died from injuries associated with falling. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, which can lead to fatalities. Falls can also lead to a fear of falling, which may cause seniors to curtail activities, making them weaker and thus more prone to falling.

Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls

The best way to avoid the serious problems associated with falls is to prevent falls in the first place. Exercising regularly is one of the best way to prevent falls. Exercises that improve balance, such as yoga and tai chi, are great ways to help prevent falls. It’s also important to review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you don’t have to worry about interactions between your medications that could make you dizzy or otherwise increase your fall risk. In that vein, it’s equally important to regularly visit your doctor, to make sure your balance and eyesight don’t put you at risk.

Finally, it’s important to make your home safe by removing tripping hazards, installing lighting, and putting in grab bars in essential locations such as bathrooms. Read our blog post on fall-proofing your home.

Falls are a frightening and dangerous risk for seniors. But if you arm yourself with the facts and take measures to prevent falls, you’ll stay safe for years to come.

What steps have you taken to make sure your loved one’s home is fall safe? Tell us in the comments below!

For more information, please review our Fall Prevention Resources.

  • Daryl Gidley

    I totally agree with all that’s been said, however, I would like to add a few “FYI”. Often an elderly person will break their hip, then fall. This being related to osteoporosis, demineralized bones, or bone disease. Since I am only 59 years old and do not consider myself elderly, I have fractured my right hip. I was walking my spoiled, untrained German Shepard, as my husband was walking the other on.. Mine started fooling around with the other and I tripped over her leash. I believe another form of prevention is proper footwear. Sneakers are not good for all elders as much as we encourage them. They trip on the tips of the sneakers if they have poor gait like “tripping on air”. Thank you for listening.

  • Tracey Miles

    I had a client whose son lived across the country. I was her “surrogate family”. When I went to check on her one day, she couldn’t hear me that well. Two days prior, she was fine. She happened to mention that she fell backward off a step stool that she was sitting on to reach a low shelf and hurt her back a little. She insisted that she did not hit her head. However, I was concerned enough about the sudden hearing loss that I took her immediately to the ER. I impressed upon the staff that this was not a frail, elderly lady who was hard of hearing. This was a very active senior who had driven herself to church two days prior and has no trouble hearing. They had her for a CT Scan within the hour and sure enough she had hit her head and had multiple hematomas on the brain. The ER staff said that if they hadn’t had someone there providing them the history they needed and advocating for her, they probably wouldn’t have found the issue as fast as they did. Even with the quick diagnosis, it took my client quite a while to get back on her feet. Unfortunately, she never did regain her hearing.

    This just goes to show how important it is for seniors in our community to have an advocate. When they don’t have a familial support system and don’t need a home health aide, they should have someone who is familiar with their life, lifestyle, and health to provide support in situations such as this.

  • Fletcher

    You also have to be careful about elderly patients falling while in hospitals and medical facilities. If they are not monitored and wake up in an unfamiliar place, they may get up and try to walk in the dark to figure out where they are. I think home care is a good thing for elderly patients when possible because it prevents them from being in an unfamiliar area.