UPDATED JULY 2021
When we think about what causes falls, we usually focus on things like tripping over a throw rug or slipping on the ice. But certain conditions and diseases can also cause falls. Review the list below to understand how they increase fall risk.
8 Diseases & Conditions that Increase the Risk of Falling
1. Visual Impairments
Vision impairments such as cataracts, glaucoma and anisometropia can alter depth perception, peripheral vision and visual acuity. Ironically, new glasses prescriptions – especially multi-focal lenses -- can temporarily affect depth perception, too.
Certain medical conditions – like diabetes, kidney failure and shingles – can cause tingling, numbness, weakness or burning pain in the legs and feet. This is known as peripheral neuropathy and it can make it hard to be aware of where we’re stepping, which may lead us to fall. Discover more about diabetes and falling down.
3. Cardiovascular Disease & Related Conditions
Cardiovascular conditions and resulting symptoms can make us almost 30% more prone to falling than people living without a chronic condition, according to a study of 145,000 Philips Lifeline users. Contributing factors include muscle weakness and fatigue; lightheadedness; dizziness; shortness of breath; nausea; swelling of the legs, ankles and feet; and fainting. Orthostatic hypotension (also called postural hypotension) is a form of low blood pressure that can cause dizziness or light-headedness when we stand up from sitting or lying down. Structural heart disease can cause unusual blood flow through the heart, which can lead to generalized weakness or loss of consciousness. Get more details on how heart and circulatory issues increase fall risk.
4. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Cognitive impairment from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions can produce confusion and frustration as well as physical deconditioning, gait changes, poor balance, memory impairment, poor judgment and visual misperception -- all of which increase the chance of falling. Learn more about the link between cognitive issues and falling.
5. Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease decreases dopamine in the brain, which causes a progressive deterioration of muscle function. This can lead to conditions that can make us more likely to fall down, including tremors, postural changes, slowness, impaired balance, and shuffling gait.
The prevalence of falls and fall injuries is higher among adults 45 and older who have arthritis compared with those without it, according to data from the CDC.1 Arthritis causes painful stiffness and inflammation in the joints (especially in our hands, knees and hips) that can limit mobility, cause pain when moving and make it difficult to grab on to something to break a fall. Read up on the connection between bone health and falls.
Incontinence can boost the risk of falling2 in two ways. First, urgency may prompt a distracted rush to the bathroom, making it possible to trip over ourselves, pieces of furniture or items on the floor. Second, incontinence may lead to wet floors, further increasing the likelihood of slips and falls.
Sarcopenia is a syndrome that causes the general loss of strength and skeletal muscle mass, which is associated with gait disorders, balance issues and fall-related accidents.3
If you or a loved one has any of these conditions, talk to a healthcare professional to understand specific risks and develop a fall prevention plan. Consider a medical alert system for an added layer of protection.
Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagnosis or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be experiencing a healthcare condition or medical emergency.
1CDC - Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults with Arthritis. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6317a3.htm. July 29, 2021.
2Moon S, Chung HS, Kim YJ, Kim SJ, Kwon O, Lee YG, et al. (2021) The impact of urinary incontinence on falls: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0251711. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251711
3Kim AY, Lee JK, Kim SH, Choi J, Song JJ, Chae SW (2020) Is postural dysfunction related to sarcopenia? A population-based study. PLoS ONE 15(5): e0232135. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232135