What Causes an Aging Adult to Fall? 

Learn why aging adults are more prone to falls and what you can do to help protect your loved ones from fall-related injuries. 

Summary 

  • There are several risk factors that can cause aging adults to fall. Some of these include chronic conditions, weakening vision, and previous fall injuries. 
  • Most falls occur in the home — especially in the bedroom. Therefore it’s important to take fall prevention seriously. 
  • Fall risk factors differ from person to person, so it’s important to draw up personalized fall prevention plans to keep your loved ones safe. 
  • Medical alert systems can ensure that your loved ones have help in the event of a fall or some other emergency. 

Terms like fall prevention and fall detection are typically used when we speak about the safety of aging adults. But why is falling such a big deal for this age group? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about three million older people in the U.S. end up in the ER after a fall, with a further 800,000 being hospitalized due to fall-related injuries each year. 

The cost of falls among older people is high, with annual medical bills totaling about $50 billion for nonfatal fall injuries, and $754 million for fatal falls. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) deems falls the second most common cause of unintentional injury-related deaths across the world. Each year, almost 700,000 fatal falls occur. 

Falls among the aging population can cause serious injury and even death. But why do older people fall? 

In this article, we’ll explain why falls are more prevalent among aging adults, where falls most typically occur, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family. 

Why Do Falls Increase as You Get Older? 

Older people are generally more prone to falling than children or younger adults. When you or your loved ones reach a certain age, you become more conscious of maintaining your balance and avoiding serious injury. 

There are mobility aids, medical alert devices, and fall prevention measures you can use to protect yourself from falls. But why is all this necessary as you get up in years? 

Fall prevention is a priority for aging adults, but why does the risk of falling increase as you age? We’ll take a look at some of the most common reasons below. 

Once you understand why falls occur, you’ll have a greater chance of preventing them. 

Why Seniors Fall: What Are the Main Reasons? 

If you’ve noticed your mom or dad growing unsteady on their feet, there are likely many reasons for this. But aging is the main one.  

Falls frequently occur among older adults, and fall injuries can have serious long-term consequences. 

Here are some of the main causes of falls among older adults.

Previous falls or injuries 

If an aging adult has had a fall before, it increases their risk of falling and injuring themselves again.  

A previous injury or fall can also result in limited mobility and fear of falling. This can diminish someone’s confidence, causing them to fall again. 

Lower fitness levels 

Lower fitness levels along with the sedentary lifestyles some aging adults lead, can result in more effort required to perform daily tasks. This type of exertion can increase the person’s risk of a fall. 

If an aging adult develops weaker muscles, this may also contribute to lower fitness levels and vice versa. More on muscle weakness will follow below. 

Vision impairment 

It goes without saying that if you can’t see where you’re going, you’re more likely to stumble, fall, and injure yourself. But it also goes beyond this when it comes to aging adults. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 12 million Americans struggle with vision problems.  

Adults with impaired vision also frequently take chronic medications, which could have side effects that increase the risk of falling — more on this below.  

In addition, blurry vision can affect your depth perception, making it difficult to judge distances and depth accurately — this makes it easier to bump into objects and fall. 

Medication side effects 

Dizziness or lightheadedness is a common and potentially dangerous side effect of many medications, but older folks who are on medications should be extra cautious as this side effect carries an increased risk of falling. 

Harvard Health identifies some of the medications that increase your risk of falling. Their list includes: 

  • Diazepam, lorazepam, and other anxiety medications 
  • Benadryl, which is also found in over-the-counter sleep medications such as Nyquil 
  • Prescription medications, such as oxybutynin and tolterodine 
  • Antidepressants — especially those used for chronic pain relief 
  • Prescription sleep medications, like zaleplon and zolpidem 
  • Opioids, like codeine and fentanyl 

Always check with your doctor if any of the chronic, prescription, or over-the-counter medications you’re using have side effects that could affect your balance and increase the risk of fall injuries. 

Close-up of a woman pouring medication out of a bottle.

Chronic illnesses 

Any condition that affects the thyroid, nerves, blood vessels, or feet can lead to balance problems that in turn increase the likelihood of falling.  

Heart disease, diabetes, hypotension (low blood pressure), and incontinence are all factors that can lead to a fall. 

Muscle weakness 

Most aging adults will develop some form of muscle weakness as the strength and size of muscles and bones change with age. 

There is also a condition known as sarcopenia that causes muscle loss in around 10 to 20% of aging adults. This condition results in muscle wasting, which decreases walking speed, makes daily activities more difficult, and raises the risk of falling. 

Hospitalizations due to sarcopenia amount to over $40 billion per year in the U.S. 

Hazards in the environment 

Most falls among aging adults occur in the home. 

A recent study showed that most falls happen indoors, in areas that are well-lit. So staying home and ensuring there’s adequate lighting is not enough to prevent falls. 

If you don’t make the correct home modifications, your living space may be filled with hazards that increase the risk of falling. 

Some environmental hazards that can cause falls include: 

  • Clutter and loose rugs 
  • Staircases without railings 
  • Bathrooms without grab bars 
  • Not wearing the right footwear 
  • Wearing clothing that can cause you to trip — for example, dresses that cover the ankles. 

No matter your age, you should always aim to minimize environmental hazards to keep your family safe. It’s not just aging adults who will benefit from removing clutter and keeping the home tidy. 

Lifestyle and habits 

Adults who get older — especially those who plan to age in place —need to modify their behaviors and make certain lifestyle changes in order to decrease the risk of fall injuries. 

Once upon a time you might have slid down the banister or worn heels you could touch the sky in — these things may not be practical for someone approaching age 60 or 70. 

Choosing the right footwear and taking the staircase one step at a time will be an adjustment, but it can increase your quality of life and reduce the risk of falls. 

Some habits that may lead to a fall include: 

  • Performing strenuous tasks around the house. Especially those tasks that involve carrying heavy loads can put you at risk. 
  • Drinking excessively. Too much alcohol can make even the fittest, strongest person unsteady on their feet. 
  • Wearing impractical, uncomfortable shoes. Your choice of footwear can impact your gait (the way you walk), which could lead to a fall. In addition, uncomfortable shoes can cause foot pain that may affect your balance. 
  • Not resting enough or not getting treatment for injuries or existing health conditions. If you’ve hurt yourself or you’re unwell, it’s important to rest and follow your doctor’s instructions.  Aging adults may not always feel comfortable reporting injuries to their loved ones or primary health care providers, but injuries or health conditions that go untreated can increase the risk of falls and further injury. 
  • Not knowing your limits. As you age, your physical and mental capabilities may change. It’s important to recognize these changes and how they may affect your day to day.

What Are the Fall Risk Factors for Aging Adults? 

Certain risk factors increase an aging adult’s chances of sustaining a fall.  

Some of these factors are beyond our control, but there are measures that can be taken to decrease other risks. 

Here are some risk factors that contribute to fall injuries in older adults: 

  • Lower physical strength and flexibility 
  • Weakening eyesight 
  • A history of previous falls or vertigo 
  • Lower endurance 
  • A decreased ability to walk 
  • A disinterest in performing certain activities 
  • Problems with balance and coordination 
  • Abnormal foot shape or foot pain 
  • Any physical or cognitive impairment 
  • Lapse in judgement (for example, going for a walk on a hot day without anyone accompanying you, or not taking your medication in a timely manner) 
A young woman is embracing an older woman, likely her mother or other close relative.

How to Protect Your Loved Ones from Fall-Related Injuries 

Accidents will always happen. The good news is there are several steps you can take to keep yourself and your family safe from falls. 

Some protection measures can be implemented quickly, while others require more thought and planning. 

It’s advisable to do what you can first and save up for the bigger investments you’ll have to make a few years down the line  — such as extensive remodeling of your home, for example. 

Listed below are the top four things you can do to help prevent falls and fall-related injuries. 

Invest in personalized fall prevention  

Personalized is the key word here because no single fall prevention plan will suit all aging adults.  

Your mother and father might both have sustained falls in the past year, but the reasons for their falls might be entirely different, so a personal approach to fall protection is advisable. 

If an adult has fallen in the past, it’s important to list all the possible reasons this fall might have occurred. And it’s rarely as simple as saying they tripped over a box when it comes to older folks. There are usually multiple factors to consider when determining the cause. Here’s what you’ll want to do. 

Identify all fall risk factors for the individual  

Look at anything that can affect balance or injure the person, and make a list of all these factors. Some things you may want to include in your list are: 

  • Environmental factors, such as hazards in the home. 
  • Existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. 
  • External factors — here, you may want to think about activities the person does outside of their home, like grocery shopping or attending social events. 
  • Lifestyle factors or habits that contribute to falling. 

Find out why past falls occurred 

As mentioned earlier, it may seem like it was a box on the floor that caused a fall injury, but there’s a good chance other factors were involved as well. 

Some questions you could ask, or possibilities you could explore related to the hypothetical box incident, include: 

  • When and where did the fall occur? 
  • What medications was the person on at the time? Did they perhaps miss a dose? 
  • Had they been taking an over-the-counter sedative that made them drowsy? 
  • Did they have one too many glasses of wine the night they fell? 
  • Did they overexert themselves earlier that day? 
  • Did the fall occur in a room with poor lighting? 
  • Were they wearing their glasses at the time? Perhaps their vision was affected and that’s why they tripped. 
  • Did the fall occur while they were still recovering from something like a hip fracture? 

Once you have the answers to these questions, you’ll be better positioned to avoid the things that contributed to the fall in the first place.

Draw up a plan to prevent future falls 

The personalized plan that you develop will depend on the fall risk factors you’ve identified, as well as the reason(s) for previous falls. 

For example, if you or your loved one had a fall shortly after surgery, while you were on sedatives, then you’ll need to speak to a doctor about prescribing alternative medications during your recovery period and possibly seeing an occupational therapist to rebuild your strength. 

A personalized fall prevention plan takes into consideration the needs of the individual who’s at risk of falling.  

If you’re thinking about fall prevention strategies for a stubborn loved one, try explaining the benefits of the plan to them.  

For example, if they follow your plan, they will be able to live independently for longer. This is a big benefit for many older people who enjoy living in their own homes and want to age in place. 

Invest in technology 

In-home and on-the-go mobile devices are easy-to-use equipment that can help protect you or a family member. These devices offer a wide variety of features, ranging from simple two-way communication with loved ones and emergency responders, to real-time GPS tracking and health monitoring. 

If you’re considering getting a medical alert device for yourself or a loved one, take a look at the Logicmark line of products. Our devices connect directly to the pre-programmed numbers of loved ones, caregivers, or emergency responders — ensuring that help is at hand if a fall has occurred. 

Fall-proof your home 

As we’ve mentioned earlier, most falls occur inside the home. So it’s vital to make sure that your home — a place where you spend the most time — is safe for an aging adult to live in. 

While it’s impossible to 100% fall-proof your living space, decreasing the chances of accidents will increase the quality of your or your loved one’s life. 

For a detailed guide on how to fall-proof your home, take a look at this article.  

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to fall prevention, but our checklist may give you some ideas of where to begin. 

Take care of your overall health 

If you eat a balanced diet, limit your alcohol intake, get daily exercise, and keep your stress levels low, you can help ensure you stay healthier for longer and decrease the risk of falling as you get older. 

Take control of your health and encourage your loved ones to do the same. It’s never too late to make beneficial dietary and lifestyle changes. Make them excited about regular exercise. You can help them build their physical strength by turning workout time into a bonding experience for you and a loved one. 

Also, encourage your aging relatives to have regular screenings and checkups. 

An older woman in exercise clothes is sitting on the ground with her legs outstretched. She is bending to touch her toes and is smiling at the camera.

Where Can I Learn More About Fall Prevention? 

It can be traumatic if a loved one suffers a fall. But you don’t have to live in constant fear of something happening to your loved one or yourself. You can also browse our range of products, which includes in-home and on-the-go medical alert systems. Keep an eye on our site for special offers, or take advantage of our ongoing deals for veterans.