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Elderly man and home care services assessor looking at adjustments

Preventing falls in the elderly

Falls can happen to anyone, but, unfortunately, as you grow older falls can become more common and you are more likely to injure yourself.

Most elderly people fall in and around the home. Falls are also common in aged care homes. If you have a serious injury it can lead to a change in where you live.

The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to help prevent falls and minimise your injuries if you do fall. Knowing your risk factors and taking a few precautions is a good start.

What can I do to reduce my risk of falling?

Things you can do to reduce your risk of falling include:

  • eating healthy and nutritious food
  • drinking enough fluids
  • maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, with regular exercise to prevent your muscles weakening and joints stiffening such as tai chi
  • taking medication only as prescribed
  • wearing the right shoes – comfortable, firm-fitting, flat shoes with a low wide heel, laces, buckles or Velcro fastenings and rubber soles that grip
  • wearing slippers which are good fitting
  • not walking in socks
  • making sure clothing is not too long causing a trip hazard (touching the floor)
  • hazard proofing your home to make it as safe as possible – removing slip or trip hazards like loose rugs or mats and repairing or replacing worn areas of carpets
  • wiping up spills immediately
  • making sure there is adequate lighting, especially at night
  • using your walking aid at all times
  • installing grab rails in the bathroom
  • keeping pathways in good repair and clean
  • marking the edge of steps so they are easy to see.

Home maintenance and modification services may also help prevent falls by making your home safer and more secure. This may include installing:

  • grab and shower rails
  • hand rails
  • ramps and other mobility aids
  • emergency alarms and other safety aids.

What causes falls in the elderly?

As you grow older, changes in your body such as vision problems, weakening muscles and stiffening joints can increase your chances of falling. Falls can also be a sign of a new health problem, medication side effects or balance problems. Even short-term illnesses (such as the flu and other infections) or surgery can temporarily increase the risk of falling.

If you've had a fall in the past six months, your chances of falling may be increased. There are many factors that can increase the risks of falling. These include:

  • Home hazards
    • poor footwear such as loose slippers, shoes that don't fit properly
    • indoor hazards such as internal steps, rugs on the floor, slippery tiles in the bathroom, inadequate lighting between the bed and the bathroom or toilet at night
    • hazards in the garden and outside areas of the house such as outside steps which don't have handrails or are slippery, and uneven footpaths
  • Sensory and balance problems
    • muscle weakness
    • low vision or blindness
    • poor balance
    • reduced sensation
  • Medicines
  • Chronic diseases
    • stroke
    • incontinence
    • Parkinson's disease
    • low vision or blindness
    • dementia
    • delirium
    • hypotension (low blood pressure)
    • diabetes
    • arthritis
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • osteoporosis.

Who can help?

If you've had a fall, or you often feel like you're at risk of falling, don't just dismiss it as part of getting older, lack of concentration or clumsiness. Talk to a health professional and ask about different options that may help you.

Doctors

It is a good idea to talk with your doctor about how to prevent falls, particularly if you have one or more of the conditions linked to a higher risk of falls. Your doctor can assess and help you manage your health and any chronic disease you may have, review your medicines, or refer you for a Home Medicines Review. They may also refer you to another health professional or service.

If you've had a fall, try to give them as much information as you can about the time of day you fell, what you were doing and how you were feeling just before the fall. Make sure you tell your doctor any conditions you have and medicines you're taking.

Physiotherapists

A physiotherapist may be able to help you with balance and strengthening exercises. You can also ask them about equipment such as a walking frame or stick to help you move about more safely. It's important that any equipment you do use is adjusted to meet your needs and well maintained. For example, a physiotherapist can help make sure that your walking frame is the correct height for you and teach you how to use it safely.

Podiatrists

It may be a good idea to talk to a podiatrist if you have painful or swollen feet, tingling, pins and needles or bunions, as all of these things can affect your balance. A podiatrist may also suggest ways to improve your circulation and decrease any swelling in your legs and feet, and provide advice on suitable footwear.

Occupational therapists

An occupational therapist can assess your home environment for potential hazards. They can help you with modifications to make your home safer, such as rails in the bathroom, and provide you with an exercise program.

Optometrists

It may be a good idea to talk to an optometrist because your eyes not only help you to see but also to maintain your balance. Having your eyes checked regularly, making sure you are wearing glasses with the right prescription and keeping your glasses clean are important.

What can I do to reduce the risk of injury if I fall?

Wearing hip protectors or limb protectors can help prevent hip fractures and skins tears.

You may also want to consider installing a personal or medical alarm. There are different types of devices you can choose from to raise the alarm should you fall. Your choice of device will depend on many things, such as who can come to help, the distance over which the device works, how easy it is for you to carry and use the device, and how much it costs.

Resources and support

If you need to find health professionals in your local area, you may find the following helpful:

For more information about preventing falls in the elderly, including fall-proofing yourself, fall-proofing your surroundings and what to do in the event of a fall, download the Don't fall for it. Falls can be prevented! guide from the Department of Health website.

What else might help?

Independent Living Centres have products to help manage disabilities in daily life. These centres carry a wide range of products and equipment, so you can decide which one best suits your needs.

Last reviewed: 30 June, 2015.