Falls are one of the most common causes of injuries in elderly people, often leading to severe and long-lasting consequences, such as fractures, hospitalisation, and reduced mobility.

As falls are unexpected events, the consequences of falls can range from minor bruises and cuts to serious injuries, such as hip fractures, head injuries, and spinal cord injuries. In some cases, falls can also lead to long-term disability and loss of independence. This also makes Managing Falls and Fall-Related Injuries challenging.

How big is the problem and Who is Affected?

Falls are a significant public health issue in the UK, with more than 240,000 falls-related hospital admissions each year. Falls are also a leading cause of mortality, with approximately 5,000 deaths each year attributed to falls. The risk of falls increases with age, with the highest rates reported in people aged 85 years and older. It is estimated that around one-third of people over 65 years old and half of people over 80 years old fall at least once a year. In addition, falls disproportionately affect women, people with certain medical conditions, and those living in care homes.

Fall prevention is crucial to maintaining the physical and mental health of elderly people, as well as their independence and quality of life.

Causes of Falls in Elderly

Falls are a common problem among the elderly, and several physical and environmental factors can contribute to their occurrence. Here are some of the main risk factors that increase the likelihood of falls in the elderly.

Poor balance and difficulty in walking properly

Older adults may experience a decline in their physical abilities, that can make it difficult to maintain stability while walking or standing and increases the risk of falls. Weakening of muscles. joint pain and reduced flexibility can all contribute towards poor balance while walking.

Chronic conditions and disabilities

Elderly individuals with chronic conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, or Parkinson's disease, or those with disabilities such as stroke or multiple sclerosis, may experience difficulty with mobility and balance. These conditions can also affect vision, hearing, and cognition, increasing the risk of falls.

Medicines and drug interactions

Many medications can cause dizziness, drowsiness, or confusion, which can impair balance and coordination, leading to falls. Elderly individuals taking multiple medications may be at higher risk of falls.

Sensory Impairment

Elderly individuals with sensory impairments such as vision or hearing loss may have difficulty identifying obstacles in their environment, increasing their risk of tripping or falling.

Loss of Bladder Control

Incontinence or loss of bladder control can contribute to falls in the elderly, as individuals may rush to the bathroom and lose their balance in the process on wet or slippery surfaces especially during night time.

Hazards in the Home

The home is a common place for falls to occur, and environmental hazards in the home can increase the risk of falls. These hazards can include loose rugs, cluttered walkways, electrical cords in walkways, and low height chairs, sofas and recliners that make it difficult to stand up. Elderly people with poor eyesight may also be at risk of falls in dimly lit rooms or on stairs without proper handrails. The presence of pets, particularly those that may be underfoot or cause tripping, can also increase the risk of falls.

Home Sensors and Wearable Technology for Seniors: Gadgets for Elderly to Keep Them Safe

Outdoor Hazards

Hazards outside the home can also increase the risk of falls for elderly people. These can include uneven or slippery surfaces, poorly maintained sidewalks or roads, and inadequate lighting in outdoor areas. Weather conditions, such as rain, snow or ice, can make outdoor areas even more hazardous.

Poor Lighting

Poor lighting can make it difficult for elderly people to navigate their surroundings, increasing the risk of falls. Dim lighting, particularly in areas such as stairwells or bathrooms, can make it difficult to see and increase the likelihood of accidents. Adequate lighting throughout the home, including nightlights, can help prevent falls caused by poor visibility.

Learn more about Reducing the Risk and Preventing Falls in the Elderly.

Behavioural Factors

Behavioural factors are another important risk factor for falls in the elderly. These factors include lifestyle choices and habits that can increase the likelihood of falls. Some of the most common behavioural risk factors include:

  • Lack of physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a loss of strength, flexibility and balance, which can increase the risk of falls.
  • Poor nutrition: A lack of proper nutrition can lead to muscle weakness and feeling tired quicker and more frequently, which can increase the risk of falls. Adequate intake of calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients is important for maintaining bone health and reducing the risk of falls.
  • Smoking and alcohol use: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can affect balance and coordination, increasing the risk of falls.
  • Fear of falling: The fear of falling can actually increase the risk of falls, as it can lead to decreased activity and mobility. 
  • Improper use of assistive devices: Assistive devices such as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs when either not used correctly, adequately or not maintained properly, can increase the risk of falls.

It is important to identify and address these risk factors to prevent falls and ensure the safety of elderly individuals. By addressing these risk factors, seniors can take steps to reduce their risk of falls and maintain their independence and quality of life.

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