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Information from Your Family Doctor
What Causes Falls in the Elderly? How Can I Prevent a Fall?
Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 1;61(7):2173-2174.
See related article on falls in the elderly.
Falls are the top cause of accidents in people over the age of 65. Falls are also the main cause of serious injuries and accidental deaths in older people.
Even older people who appear to be strong and well can fall. Falling is a real threat to your ability to live on your own.
What are some causes of falls?
The normal changes of aging, like poor eyesight or poor hearing, can make you more likely to fall. Illnesses and physical conditions can affect your strength and balance. Poor lighting or throw rugs in your home can make you more likely to trip or slip.
The side effects of some medicines can upset your balance and make you fall. Medicines for depression, sleep problems and high blood pressure often cause falls. Some medicines for diabetes and heart conditions can also make you unsteady on your feet.
You may be more likely to fall if you are taking four or more medicines. You are also likely to fall if you have changed your medicine within the past two weeks.
What can I do to prevent falls?
First, be sure your home is as safe as possible. Here are some tips:
Wear shoes with nonskid soles (not house slippers).
Be sure your home is well lit so that you can see things you might trip over.
Use night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, hallways and stairways.
Remove throw rugs or fasten them to the floor with carpet tape. Tack down carpet edges.
Don't put electrical cords across pathways.
Have grab bars put in your bathtub, shower and toilet area.
Have handrails put on both sides of stairways.
Don't climb on stools and stepladders. Get someone else to help with jobs that call for climbing.
Don't wax your floors at all, or use a non-skid wax.
Have sidewalks and walkways repaired so that surfaces are smooth and even.
Next, get regular check-ups from your doctor, and take good care of yourself:
Have your eyes checked every year for vision changes, cataracts, glaucoma and other eye problems.
Have your hearing checked every two years, or anytime you or others think that you can't hear well.
See your doctor if you have foot pain or corns, or if you can't trim your toenails well. Sore feet could make you fall.
See your doctor right away if you feel dizzy, weak or unsteady on your feet, if you feel confused, or if you fall.
Let your doctor know if a medicine is making you feel dizzy or making you lose your balance.
If your doctor wants you to use a cane or a walker, learn how to use it—and then use it all the time.
When you get up from bed during the night or in the morning, sit on the side of the bed for a minute or two before you stand up. This will give your blood pressure time to adjust, and you will feel less dizzy.
If you need to go to the bathroom often at night, consider using a bedside commode.
And keep your body in good shape:
Get regular exercise, especially walking.
Do exercises to strengthen the muscles you use for walking and lifting.
Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks or less a day.
What can my family do to help me prevent falls?
Your family can help you check your home for dangers that might make you trip or fall. They can help make your home safer for you.
Someone in your family can take a walk with you to see how stable you are. Your family can also watch for changes in your strength or balance.
Your family can respond to any worries you might have about feeling dizzy, weak or unsteady, and they can see that you get help.
This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.
Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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