Falls: Prevention and What to Ask Your Older Loved One

An older woman sitting alone on a bench in a garden with a walking aid next to her

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. For many elders who have a fall, this is often the beginning of a deleterious cascade of ill health that will lead to trauma, hospitalization, decreased mobility, depression, and in some cases, even death. The sad thing about these statistics is that, for many seniors, falls are largely preventable. It all starts with an honest and caring conversation with a senior to talk about the issue of balancing safety with autonomy. If you have a family member or close friend who has fallen or is at risk of falling, share your concern and take a quick fall history.

Some of the questions you should ask include:

  • Have you had a fall in the past year?
  • If so, where and how?
  • If so, how many and were you hurt?
  • Do you feel unsteady when standing or walking?
  • Do you worry about falling?
  • Do you feel dizzy/lightheaded when you change position?
  • Do any of your medications make you feel dizzy/lightheaded on a consistent basis?

Risk factors for falls include chronic medical conditions such as arthritis, spinal disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, neuropathy, and diabetes. Seniors with cognitive impairment are also at greater risk for falls because of impulsivity and poor judgment. Visual impairment is also important to consider, along with the side effects of medications and environmental factors.

Not to be ignored is the actual fear of falling. This can stop a senior from participating in activities and exercise, which can, in turn, lead to weak legs and further increase the risk for falls. It also contributes to social isolation and depression.

Based on the falls history and risk factors identified, some tips to reduce falls include:
  • A thorough review of medications with a healthcare provider to ensure that none of these are contributing to gait unsteadiness
  • Having vision evaluated
  • Exercise safely and regularly to improve your balance and strength
  • If appropriate, get a referral from a healthcare provider to a physical therapy program
  • Consider a home safety assessment by a qualified professional such as an occupational therapist or Aging Life Care Professional to help identify ways to make your home safer

Community resources include local workshops in community senior centers, online downloadable resources or in-person seminars from physical and occupational therapy groups, community exercise classes, and social groups.

This is an excerpt from Home Safety Tips for Seniors: A Comprehensive Guide to General Safety Measures on porch.com.

About the Author:  Anne Sansevero, RN, AGNP, MA, CCM, Founder and CEO of HealthSense, LLC, an Aging Life Care management consulting practice, has a master’s and is a prepared geriatric nurse practitioner and a seasoned nursing professional with over 30 years of experience in the field. She has particular expertise with communication disorders relating to stroke and dementia and has developed a number of innovative nursing assessment tools and standards to improve the nursing care for frail elders. Anne was President of the Aging Life Care Association® (ALCA) in 2023 and is Fellow of the Aging Life Care Leadership Academy. She is also a President for the New York Chapter of ALCA.