Updated April 2021
A third of all adults aged 65+ suffer from falls each year. These can be serious, causing bone fractures and injuries to the head. Individuals with decreased balance or problems walking have a higher chance of falling. The National Institute on Aging states that the more fall risk factors you have, the higher your chance of falling.
These risk factors can include vision problems, balance issues, muscle deterioration, and certain diseases. To help you identify and reduce these risks, here are some conditions that can increase your chance of falling.
Age-related vision impairments can give rise to falls. In fact, research suggests that people with visual deficits are 2.5x more likely to fall. Conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, and anisometropia can alter your depth perception, peripheral vision, and visual acuity.
Additionally, new glasses prescriptions can affect depth perception, especially multi-focal lenses. All this can contribute to increased risks of falling. It’s therefore important to get your eyes regularly tested. Having the most up-to-date prescriptions and checks will ensure you can navigate your environment safely.
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. These are known as peripheral neuropathy. Neuropathy is caused from multiple conditions, including diabetes, kidney failure, and shingles.
Having numbness or pain in your feet can cause you not to be aware of where you’re stepping. This in turn could lead to a fall. Wearing unsafe footwear can also increase your chances of falling. It’s therefore recommended that you were footwear with good stability, grip, and balance.
Underlying cardiovascular disorders can contribute to falls in seniors. This is due to unsteadiness in seniors with a history of walking and balance disorders. It could also be as a result of sudden loss of consciousness. Cardiac arrhythmias, orthostatic hypotension, and structural heart disease are some cardiovascular issues that can increase your fall risk.
Cardiac arrhythmia is a disorder of the heart rate rhythm. It causes 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. It can cause dizziness or light-headedness when you stand up from lying down or sitting.
Structural heart disease
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.
Having regular cardiovascular screenings can reduce this risk. Early diagnosis not only helps you potentially prevent falls but can also ensure you get treatment to reduce the effects of these diseases.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Cognitive impairment from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can cause falls due to confusion. Researchers from the Rand found that people with cognitive impairment had a 1.8x higher risk of falls. This cognitive impairment can also cause physical deconditioning, gait changes, poor balance, memory impairment, poor judgment, and visual misperception. These all increase the chance of falls.
Just like cardiovascular disease, early prevention is key here. Clear communication with caregivers, recognizing early signs and keeping mentally stimulated can reduce the impact of dementia. This not only has physical benefits but can improve overall quality of life, too.
There are different types of chronic illness which can contribute to increased risk of falling. These include:
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease. It 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. These all contribute to the risk of falling. Problems with changes in your center of gravity can also contribute to falls.
Arthritis causes painful stiffness and inflammation in the joints. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. This is where the protective cartilage at the end of bones wears down, causing impaired movement and pain. This typically occurs around the knees, hips, spine, and hands. Studies suggest arthritis can increase the risk of experiencing a fall by 2.4x. Staying active and massage can be effective arthritis remedies.
Similarly, hypotension (high blood pressure) can contribute to falls. Research found that as many as 20% of all falls were associated with hypotension. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that nearly half of all adults in the US have hypertension, meaning this is a condition that doesn’t just affect seniors. Positive changes to lifestyle, diet and fitness, as well as medication and compression stockings, can help alleviate hypotension.
According to research, acute illnesses could account for up to 20% of falls. An acute infection, such as an ear or chest infection, can cause fatigue, dizziness, and weakness. These can all increase the risk of falls. Similarly, an unexpected fall could be a sign of an acute illness. It’s important to alert caregivers if you’re feeling unwell.
While some acute infections can be recognized through early symptoms, something like asymptomatic bacteriuria can be harder to identify. This is caused by bacterial colonization in the urinary tract but doesn’t include symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Asymptomatic bacteriuria is common in elderly individuals. If you suspect this may be a cause of a fall, you will need to provide a urine sample to your doctor for diagnosis.
Older individuals are more likely to experience sarcopenia. This is a syndrome which causes the general loss of strength and skeletal muscle mass. Sarcopenia is a major contributing factor to falls amongst seniors. Thankfully, resistance exercises can alleviate and even potentially reverse sarcopenia. It’s important to stay active to reduce your risk of sarcopenia and associated 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. A medical alert system can also ensure you get the help you need after experiencing a fall. With a simple click of a button, you can rest assured that help is available day or night.
DISCLAIMER: 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 medical condition or healthcare emergency.