Aging can cause changes in muscles, blood pressure control, vision, hearing, and balance. These changes can increase the risk of falling. Certain diseases, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease, also can cause falls.
Falls rarely have a single cause. Usually, several risks combine to make falls more likely. Risks include those related to a person’s body, lifestyle, and environment.
Physical Risk Factors
As people age, they can have one or more conditions or diseases that make falls more likely. These are some examples:
- Old age, which can bring disability and disease
- Arthritis and chronic pain
- Anemia (not enough red blood cells) or other blood disorders
- Thyroid problems
- Muscle weakness in the legs and foot disorders
- Dizziness (vertigo) or balance difficulties
- Vision or hearing problems
- Numbness (neuropathy) in the legs and feet
- Brain or mood disorders, including dementia, Parkinson’s disease, depression, or psychotic behavior.
- Urinary or fecal incontinence (inability to control using the toilet) or having to make quick trips to the bathroom.
- Dehydration (lack of fluids). This can cause low blood pressure (hypotension) which can cause falls. Takin “water pills” (diuretics) and some other medications, or having some diseases, like diabetes cancause dehydration.
- Fear that you will fall again
Lifestyle or Behavioral Risk Factors
Medications and lack of exercise can increase falls risk. Some medications have side effects such as dizziness or confusion that can also increase your fall risk. Using alcohol while taking medications often increases fall risks.
Older adults often take many medications, which can cause side effects and react to one another. Medicines that can cause falls include:
- Pain medications
- Sedatives and sleeping pills
- Antidepressants (depression medications) and other medications affecting mental health
- Antihistamines (control allergy symptoms)
- Diuretics and blood pressure medications
- Muscle relaxants
- Drugs that treat dementia and Parkinson’s disease
Lack of Exercise
Common problems can make exercise hard. These problems include arthritis, dizziness, and long-lasting (chronic) pain. Muscles get weaker, joints ache more, and exercise becomes more difficult. Lack of balance can happen as a result.
Staying indoors reduces exposure to sunshine. So, the body produces less vitamin D, which is needed to keep bones strong.
The environment, like home and workspaces, can make falls more likely. Problems include:
- Shoes with heels that aren’t comfortable, or don’t fit feet well.
- Risks in the home. For example, loose carpets or wires, dark stairways or corridors, clutter, or water on the floor.
- Risks outside the home include uneven ground, clutter in the yard, or ice and snow.
- Poor use of walking aids such as canes or walkers.
Last Updated January 2023
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