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Aging & Geriatrics - Preventing Falls and Fractures
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Preventing Falls and Fractures

A simple fall can mean a major change in someone’s life. When an older person falls, she or he might be so hurt that they are no longer able to lead an active, independent life. Each year thousands of older men and women are disabled, sometimes permanently, by falls that result in broken bones. Yet, small changes in homes and lifestyles might prevent such falls.

With age may come changes in vision, hearing, muscle strength, coordination, and reflexes. These changes may make people more likely to fall. Older people also are more likely to have disorders that may affect their balance such as diabetes and conditions of the heart, blood vessels, nervous system, and thyroid. Sometimes these are treatable. In addition, older persons often take medications that may cause dizziness or light-headedness.

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone mass is lost so that bones are more fragile and break easily. This is a major cause of bone fractures in women after menopause and in older people in general. For someone with severe osteoporosis, even a minor fall may cause one or more bones to break. Preventing falls is very important for these people.

Steps to Take

Falls and accidents seldom "just happen." Many can be prevented. Each of us can take steps to make our homes safer and lower the chances of falling. Here are some ideas to help prevent falls and fractures.

  • Have your vision and hearing tested often. Wear a properly fitted hearing aid and eyeglasses if recommended by your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of the drugs you are taking. Could they affect your coordination or balance? Ask the doctor to suggest ways to reduce your chance of falling.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect your balance and reflexes.
  • Don’t get up too quickly after eating, lying down, or resting. Low blood pressure may cause dizziness at these times.
  • Be careful about temperature. Being too cold or too hot can make you dizzy. Keep the nighttime temperature in your home at 65° F or higher.
  • If you get very hot, especially when taking some drugs, you might get dizzy and faint. If your home is not air-conditioned, keep an electric fan handy for very hot days. At those times, drink lots of liquids and limit exercise. Try to get to an air-conditioned place during the hottest part of the day.
  • If your walking is unsteady or if you sometimes feel dizzy, use a cane, walking stick, or walker to help stay balanced. This is very important on uneven or unfamiliar ground. Use special care when walking outdoors on wet and icy sidewalks.
  • Wear rubber-soled and low-heeled shoes that fully support your feet. Don’t wear smooth-soled slippers or just socks on stairs or waxed floors where you could easily slip.
  • Keep up a regular program of exercise. This will help your strength and muscle tone, and keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments more flexible. Many older people enjoy walking and swimming. Mild weight-bearing activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, may even slow the loss of bone due to osteoporosis. Check with your doctor or physical therapist to plan an exercise program that’s right for you. He or she may even suggest some simple weight-lifting exercises to strengthen muscle and bone.
  • If you must carry something when going up or down a stairway, keep one hand on a handrail.
  • Avoid taking chances. Do not walk on a freshly washed floor or stand on a chair or table to reach something. Use a "reach stick" instead of bending to pick up something from the floor or to reach an item on an upper shelf. A reach stick is a special grabbing tool available at most medical supply stores.

Make Your Home Safe

Many older people fall because of unsafe surroundings at home. Use this checklist to help you safeguard against some likely hazards.

Stairways, hallways, and pathways should have:

  • good lighting and be free of clutter
  • firmly attached carpet and rough texture or abrasive strips to secure footing
  • tightly fastened handrails running the whole length and along both sides of all stairs
  • light switches at the top and bottom of stairs.

Bathrooms should have:

  • grab bars placed both in and out of tubs, showers, and near toilets
  • nonskid mats, abrasive strips, or carpet on all surfaces that may get wet
  • nightlights.

Bedrooms should have:

  • night lights or light switches within reach of bed(s)
  • carpet or area rugs, only if firmly attached to the floor
  • telephones that are easy to reach, near your bed.

Living areas should have:

  • electrical cords and telephone wires placed away from walking paths
  • rugs well secured to the floor
  • furniture (especially low coffee tables) and other objects arranged so they do not interfere with walking
  • couches and chairs at proper height to get into and out of easily.

If you have problems with balance or dizziness and are often alone, you might look into a medical monitoring system. This service, which works through your telephone line, provides a button to wear at all times in the home. Should you fall or need emergency medical assistance for any reason, a push of the button will alert the service. They, in turn, will ask the emergency medical technicians in your community to come to your aid. There is a fee for such a monitoring service.

For More Information

For more complete information on simple, relatively inexpensive repairs and safety recommendations for your home, write the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. They can also send you a free copy of the booklet Home Safety Checklist for Older Consumers.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Washington, DC 20207
800-638-8270 (TTY)

The National Institute on Aging offers information on health and aging. For a complete list of publications, write:

National Institute on Aging Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
800-222-4225 (TTY)

National Institute on Aging
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
National Institutes of Health

This document sourced from the National Institute on Aging.