Health Topics

Hip Fractures and Falls in the Elderly

Falls are common, often dreaded events in the lives of older people. Aside from the obvious injuries and even death that might result, falling can cause wide-ranging consequences, including loss of independence, mental decline and decreased activity and mobility.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries to older people in the United States. Fortunately, research has shown that the majority of falls are preventable. Many medical risk factors for falling can be controlled. Simple common sense precautions can reduce, if not eliminate, this serious threat to the health and well-being of older persons.

Who Falls?

Older women, especially Caucasian women, are at highest risk. The number of falls and the severity of injury increase with age and in seniors who experience loss of physical conditioning, mobility and balance. Users of many prescription and over-the-counter medicines (polypharmacy) fall more often. Those with medical conditions affecting balance and walking ability, such as Parkinson's disease and stroke, also are vulnerable.

Where Do Falls Occur?

Although you might expect falls to occur with risky activities, such as walking outdoors or in bad weather, most falls (60 percent) happen in the home. Falls in the community account for 30 percent, and only 10 percent of falls occur in institutions such as nursing homes.

Preventing Falls

Preventing falls is important at any age, but it is especially important for those who have osteoporosis. Each year, about one-third of individuals 65 years and older will fall, and some will be disabled by the broken bones that can follow. In many cases, a fall can be precipitated by medicines such as sedatives, muscle relaxants and blood pressure drugs that can cause dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of balance. When two or more medicines are used in combination, these side effects might be aggravated. Falls also result from diminished hearing, vision, muscle strength, coordination and reflexes, as well as from diseases that affect balance.

What to do to Reduce Your Risk of Falls

Follow the guidelines listed below to lower your risk of falling:

  • Regular follow-up visits. Get proper medical evaluation and treatment for conditions causing physical changes. Do not assume you are just "getting older".
  • Floors. Remove all loose wires, cords and throw rugs. Minimize clutter. Make sure rugs are anchored and smooth and keep furniture in its usual place.
  • Bathroom. Install grab bars and non-skid tape in the tub or shower.
  • Lighting. Make sure halls, stairways and entrances are well-lit. Install a night light in your bathroom and turn lights on if you get up in the middle of the night.
  • Kitchen. Install non-skid rubber mats near the sink and stove. Clean spills immediately.
  • Stairs. Make sure treads, rails and rugs are secure.
  • Other precautions. Wear sturdy, rubber-soled shoes. Keep your intake of alcoholic beverages to a minimum. Ask your health care provider whether any of your medicines might cause you to fall.
  • Also, avoid risky behaviors. Do not become unduly fearful about falling, as fear will only encourage inactivity and immobility.
  • Take action. Inactivity is dangerous. Exercise improves strength, balance, coordination and flexibility, which can help you avoid falling in the first place.

For more information on osteoporosis, download the Free Osteoporosis Treatment Guide.