Anyone can have a fall, but older people are more vulnerable than others. This is mainly because long-term health conditions increase the chances of a fall.
Falls are a common but often overlooked cause of injury, and sometimes death. Around one in three adults over 65 who live at home will have at least one fall a year, and about half of these will have more frequent falls.
Most falls do not result in serious injury, but there is a risk of problems such as broken bones.
Falls can also have an adverse psychological impact on elderly people. For example, after having a fall some people can lose confidence, become withdrawn and may feel as if they have lost their independence.
What should I do if I have a fall?
If you have a fall, it is important to keep calm.
If you are not hurt and you feel strong enough to get up, do not get up quickly. Roll onto your hands and knees and look for a stable piece of furniture, such as a chair or bed.
Hold on to the furniture with both hands to support yourself and, when you feel ready, slowly get up. Sit down and rest for a while before carrying on with your daily activities.
If you are hurt or unable to get up, try to get someone's attention by calling out for help, banging on the wall or floor, or using your aid call button (if you have one). If possible, crawl to a telephone and dial 999 for an ambulance.
Try to reach something warm, such as a blanket or dressing gown, to put over you, particularly your legs and feet. Stay as comfortable as possible and try to change your position at least once every half an hour or so.
If you are living with or caring for an elderly person, see accidents and first aid for information and advice about what to do after an accident.
What causes a fall?
The natural ageing process means older people have an increased risk of having a fall. In the UK, falls are the most common cause of injury-related death in people over the age of 75.
There are three main reasons why older people are more likely to have a fall. These are:
chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, dementia and low blood pressure (hypotension), can cause dizziness and a brief loss of consciousness
impairments, such as poor vision or muscle weakness
conditions that can affect balance, such as labyrinthitis (inflammation of the delicate structure deep inside the ear known as the labyrinth)
Among older adults, the most common reasons for accidentally falling or slipping include:
wet or recently polished floors, such as in a bathroom
rugs or carpets that are not properly secured
reaching for storage areas, such as cupboards
Another common cause of falls, particularly among older men, is falling from a ladder while carrying out home maintenance work.
In older women, falls can be particularly troublesome because osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones) is a widespread problem.
Osteoporosis can develop in men and women – especially in people who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol or take steroid medication – but older women are most at risk because the condition often develops as a result of the hormonal changes that occur during the menopause.
Preventing a fall
There are several measures you can take to help prevent a fall. Simple everyday measures around the home include:
using non-slip mats in the bathroom
mopping up spills to avoid wet floors
getting help lifting or moving items that are heavy or difficult to lift
Removing clutter and ensuring that all areas of the home are properly lit can also help prevent falls. The charity Age UK provides advice about how to make tasks easier around the home.
Healthcare professionals take falls in older people very seriously because of the serious impact that they can have. As a result, there is a great deal of help and support available for older people, and it's worth asking your GP about the various options.
Your GP may carry out some simple tests to check your balance. They can also review any medicines you are taking in case their side effects may increase your risk of falling.
Your GP may also recommend:
having a sight test if you are having problems with your vision, even if you already wear glasses
requesting a home hazard assessment, where a healthcare professional visits your home to identify potential hazards and offer advice
doing exercises to improve your strength and balance
Staying active over 60
As we get older, exercise is incredibly important to our overall health. Active older people talk about how physical activity has enhanced their lives and experts give their advice.