Falls are a common, but often overlooked, cause of injury. Around one in three adults over 65 who live at home will have at least one fall a year, and about half of these will have more frequent falls.
Most falls don’t result in serious injury. However, there’s always a risk that a fall could lead to broken bones, and it can cause the person to lose confidence, become withdrawn and feel as if they’ve lost their independence.
What causes a fall?
The natural ageing process means that older people have an increased risk of having a fall. In the UK, falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75.
Older people are more likely to have a fall because they may have:
- balance problems and muscle weakness
- poor vision
- a long-term health condition, such as heart disease, dementia or low blood pressure (hypotension), which can lead to dizziness and a brief loss of consciousness
A fall is also more likely to happen when:
- the floor is wet or recently polished, such as in the bathroom
- the lighting in the room is dim
- rugs or carpets aren’t properly secured
- the person is reaching for storage areas, such as a cupboard, or is going down stairs
- the person is rushing to get to the toilet during the day or at night
Another common cause of falls, particularly among older men, is falling from a ladder while carrying out home maintenance work.
In older people, falls can be particularly problematic because osteoporosis is a fairly common problem. Osteoporosis can develop in both men and women, particularly in people who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, take steroid medication or have a family history of hip fractures. However, older women are most at risk, because it’s often associated with the hormonal changes that occur during the menopause.
Preventing a fall
There are several measures you can take to help prevent a fall. Simple everyday measures around the home include:
- using non-slip mats in the bathroom
- mopping up spills to prevent wet, slippery floors
- getting help lifting or moving items that are heavy or difficult to lift
Healthcare professionals take falls in older people very seriously, because of the huge consequences they can have for the health and wellbeing of this group. As a result, there’s a great deal of help and support available for older people, and it’s worth asking your GP about the various options.
Your GP may carry out some simple tests to check your balance. They can also review any medicines you’re taking, in case their side effects may increase your risk of falling.
Your GP may also recommend:
- having a sight test if you’re having problems with your vision, even if you already wear glasses
- having an electrocardiogram (ECG) and checking your blood pressure while lying and standing
- requesting a home hazard assessment, where a healthcare professional visits your home to identify potential hazards and offer advice
- doing exercises to improve your strength and balance (try some exercises for older people)
Read more about preventing falls.
What should I do if I fall?
If you have a fall, it’s important to keep calm.
If you’re not hurt and you feel strong enough to get up, don’t get up quickly. Roll onto your hands and knees and look for a stable piece of furniture, such as a chair or bed.
Hold on to the furniture with both hands to support yourself and, when you feel ready, slowly get up. Sit down and rest for a while before carrying on with your daily activities.
If you’re hurt or unable to get up, try to get someone’s attention by calling out for help, banging on the wall or floor, or using your aid call button (if you have one). If possible, crawl to a telephone and dial 999 to request an ambulance.
Try to reach something warm, such as a blanket or dressing gown, to put over you, particularly your legs and feet. Stay as comfortable as possible and try to change your position at least once every half an hour or so.