Falls can be serious — and even deadly — in older adults and the elderly.
They’re also common: More than 1 out of 4 older adults falls each year, but less than half of those inform their doctor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Falling once also doubles your chances of falling again, the CDC says.
What is the danger of falling in older adults and what impact does it have on your body? Here’s what you need to know.
What increases the risk of falling?
There are many factors that raise the odds of a fall, the CDC says. These can include:
Lower body weakness
Not having enough vitamin D
Trouble with walking and balance.
Use of certain medicines such as tranquilizers or antidepressants
Foot pain or poor footwear
Home hazards such as broken steps or throw rugs that can be tripped over
How falls affect your body
Falls can impact your body in a number of ways. The National Institutes of Health says some of the primary risks include:
“A person could have an injury as simple as a bruise or a fall could cause a serious injury,” Dr. William Buxton of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. “Falls can make people immobilized and unable to engage in activities for a period of time.” That, he says, can be socially isolating and even cause depression.
“The greatest risk to an older person who falls is severe injury accompanied by hospitalization,” Dr. Christopher Barnes of Corewell Health Advanced Primary Care, tells Yahoo Life. “Hospital stays are costly and many other secondary problems can occur, namely, pneumonia and blood clots, from being bedridden.”
Fall prevention is critical, particularly in older adults, Dr. Kathryn Boling, a primary care physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “It’s important to get things out of the house that can cause falls, like slippery throw rugs, and put lighting in to help you see clearly where you’re going,” she says. Boling recalls that she even had a patient with the “genius” idea to install motion detector lights on their stairs to clearly light them at night.
“Having some kind of non-slip area in the shower, making your shower a walk-in so you don’t have to step up and over something and having grab bars and railings on stairs is helpful,” Boling says.
Boling also urges people who are unsteady to consider using a walking aid, such as a cane or walker. “I have a lot of patients who are proud and don’t want to use those,” she admits. “I tell them to use a walking stick instead. It’s cooler, and I’ve been successful in getting people to do that.”
Stretching regularly and doing yoga and strength training exercises can also be helpful, Dr. Alfred Tallia, professor and chair of the department of family medicine and community health at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. “Consider wearing emergency call alerts in case you do fall, so you can get help if you live alone,” he adds.
If you’re concerned about your fall risk, Buxton recommends consulting your doctor. They can offer specific guidance to lower the risk of injury if you do happen to fall.