Why fall prevention is important
Falls are a major threat to the health and independence of older adults. Each year, one in three older adults aged 65 and older experiences a fall, and people who fall once are two to three times more likely to fall again.
Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries among older adults. One out of ten falls causes a serious injury, such as a hip fracture or head injury, which requires hospitalization. In addition to the physical and emotional pain, many people need to spend at least a year recovering in a long-term care facility. Some are never able to live independently again.
Falls can be deadly. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries. Each year, at least 25,000 older adults die as a result of falls. And the rate of fall-related deaths among older adults in the United States has been rising steadily over the past decade.
Falls are preventable. People are living longer and falls will increase unless we make a serious commitment to providing effective fall prevention programs. Fortunately, the opportunity to help reduce falls among older adults has never been better, because research has demonstrated that falls can be prevented.
Understanding fall risk factors
Falls are not an inevitable consequence of aging. However, falls do occur more often among older adults because fall risk factors increase with age. A fall risk factor is something that increases a person’s chances of falling. This may be a biological characteristic, a behavior, or an aspect of the environment. These risk factors include:
Biological risk factors:
Muscle weakness or balance problems
Medication side effects and/or interactions
Chronic health conditions such as arthritis and stroke
Vision changes and vision loss
Loss of sensation in feet
Behavioral risk factors:
Risky behaviors such as standing on a chair in place of a step stool
Environmental risk factors
Clutter and tripping hazards
Lack of stair railings
Lack of grab bars inside and outside the tub/shower
Poorly designed public spaces
Usually two or more risk factors interact to cause a fall (such as poor balance and low vision) (Rubenstein and Josephson 2006). The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling (Tinetti et al., 1986). Home or environmental risk factors play a role in about half of all falls (Bergen et al., 2008).
Understanding these risk factors is the first step to reducing older adult falls. Over the past two decades, researchers around the world have identified fall risk factors and used randomized controlled trials (RCT), to test fall interventions. RCTs are considered the “gold standard” for evaluating an intervention’s effectiveness. The results of these studies show that reducing fall risk factors significantly reduces falls among community-dwelling older adults—that is, people living independently in the community.
Many older adults, as well as their family members and caregivers, are unaware of factors or behaviors that put them at risk of falling. They are also unaware of actions they can take to reduce their risk. Fall risk factor assessment is rarely part of an older adult’s routine health care, even if they have had a fall or fall injury. All older adults should be encouraged to seek an individual fall risk assessment from their health care providers, especially older adults with a history of falls and/or with mobility or balance problems.
We encourage you to TAKE ACTION NOW to reduce your risk of falling.
Check with your doctor about your health conditions that make you more likely to fall. Attend to the things you can right away.
Review all medicines (including over-the-counter) with your doctor and eliminate any that increase fall risk.
Evaluate your home environment for hazards.
Engage in your own health improvement plan by exercising regularly and avoiding risky behaviors.