A third of all adults age 65 and older suffer from falls each year. Seniors have a higher chance of falling if they have decreased balance or problems walking, and falls can cause injuries such as bone fractures and head injuries. The more fall risk factors you have, the higher your chance of falling, says the National Institute on Aging. Risk factors can include vision problems, balance issues, muscle deterioration, and certain diseases.
Age-related vision diseases can give rise to falls. Cataracts, glaucoma, and anisometropia can alter your depth perception, peripheral vision, and visual acuity. These restrictions obstruct your capability to safely navigate your environment.
Sensory problems can also cause falls. Certain medical conditions can cause you to have tingling, numbness, weakness, or burning pain in your legs and feet, known as peripheral neuropathy. Having numbness or pain in your feet can cause you not to be aware of where you are stepping and could lead to a fall. Neuropathy is caused from multiple conditions, including diabetes, kidney failure, and shingles.
Wearing unsafe footwear can also increase your chances of falling.
Underlying cardiovascular disorders can contribute to falls in seniors due to unsteadiness in seniors with a history of walking and balance disorders, or as a result of sudden loss of consciousness. Cardiac arrhythmias, orthostatic hypotension, and structural heart disease are some of these cardiovascular issues that can increase your fall risk.
Cardiac arrhythmia is a disorder of the heart rate rhythm, causing the heart to beat irregularly, too fast (tachycardia), or too slow (bradycardia). Orthostatic hypotension (also called postural hypotension) is a form of low blood pressure that cause dizziness or lightheadedness when you stand up from lying down or sitting. Structural heart disease, also known as congenital heart disease, is a deficiency of the heart muscle or heart valves. It causes unusual blood flow through the heart, which can lead to generalized weakness or loss of consciousness.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Cognitive impairment from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can cause confusion that could lead to falls. In addition, cognitive impairment can also cause physical deconditioning, gait changes, poor balance, memory impairment, poor judgment, and visual misperception, increasing the chance of falls.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that causes a progressive deterioration of muscle function due to decreased dopamine in the brain. According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, motor symptoms include stiffness, tremor, postural changes, slowness, impaired balance, and shuffling gait, which all contribute to the risk of falling. Problems with changes in your center of gravity can also contribute to falls.
If you have any of these conditions, it’s important to understand that any physical changes you’re experiencing could change your balance or gait and cause falls. Discuss these changes and any problems you’ve had with falling with your health care provider.