Falls do not have to be a normal part of getting older. Despite what many people think, falls are preventable and do not just happen.
Often there are causes or risk factors that you may not have thought about which are linked to having a fall. There causes are grouped as being either personal risk factors or environmental risk factors
Personal risk factors
Loss of balance
As we get older we can have a loss in our balance. This loss of balance is a common cause of falls in older adults. Many factors can join together to affect your balance.
Your eyes and eyesight play an important role in helping you to keep your balance. Your eyes alert your brain to what is near you and helps you to make changes as you need to. Changes in your eyesight can stop your brain from receiving the correct information and this will affect your balance.
Your muscles and joints keep information about the position and movement of your body. This information is needed so your body can change your position. Strong muscles are needed to support and correct any changes in your balance.
Not doing enough physical activity
Physical activity helps you to keep your muscle mass, bone strength and density, joint movement and stamina when you are doing daily tasks. Having strong muscles particularly in your legs is important for keeping your body strong and supported as you move to ensure you stay on your feet®.
Sometimes you might not know the symptoms of your health condition, believe that the symptoms are normal or you might not want to bother your GP with minor problems. The symptoms of these health conditions if not treated can increase your risk of having a slip, trip or fall.
These symptoms may include:
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or unsteady on your feet
- Muscle weakness, stiffness or pain in your joints
- Altered vision or trouble focusing
Taking five or more medicines
Medicines affect everyone differently. The side effects of medicines can increase the risk of an older adult having a fall. Some of the side effects of medicines include:
- Feeling tired, drowsy or confused
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or unsteady
- Blurred or double vision
Sleeping tablets can continue to have an effect on you into the day time. They can continue to make you feel sleepy and drowsy, make you feel dizzy and can cause problems with your balance which can increase and older adults risk of having a fall.
Alcohol can impact on your judgement and how you perceive things. It affects your mental alertness and balance. It is important to drink responsibility and be aware of the effects that alcohol has when combined with any medicines that you take.
As you get older you might not feel like making and cooking a meal. You may skip meals or just have tea and toast. Poor nutrition, not having meals or not eating enough for a meal can make you feel dizzy, light-headed and can cause a loss of concentration.
Not drinking enough water may lead to dehydration, confusion and feeling dizzy. Some people choose to not drink too much water as they think it will make them rush to the toilet. Not drinking enough water concentrates your urine, irritates your bladder and increases the urge to go to the toilet. Rushing to the toilet can increase your risk of having a fall.
Calcium is needed to develop and maintain your bones. . It works with other minerals to make bones strong and healthy. Studies have shown that older adults who do not have enough calcium in their diet to maintain their bone strength and prevent loss of bone density are at a higher risk of a fracture if they fall.
Poor or changing eyesight
It is normal for your eyes to go through changes as you get older. Many of these changes go unnoticed as they occur slowly over time.
Some of the changes that you may experience as you get older are:
- Your vision may not be as sharp causing blurred vision
- Your eyes become more sensitive and your pupils become smaller so it takes longer to adjust to changes in the light
- Your ability to judge how near or far away an object is reduces which can cause you to misjudge where objects are
Sore feet and unsafe shoes
Foot problems are painful and effect daily tasks and how we move about. People with foot problems walk slowly and often have difficulty doing tasks like housework or going shopping. Foot problems can cause loss of balance and can make you feel unstable on your feet. This can put you at risk of having a fall.
Environmental risk factors
Some common hazards that you may find inside your home are;
- Poor lighting or not turning lights on
- Trip and slip hazards like objects left on the floor, loose mats or slippery floor surfaces
- Uneven surfaces such as steps over door ways, shower hobs or stairs
Some common hazards that you may find outside your home are:
- Slipping or tripping on wet or uneven paths
- Tripping over tools and other objects left on the lawn or in the garage
These hazards become more of a risk when combined with other risk factors such as poor eyesight, taking five or more medicines and wearing unsafe footwear,
The Stay On Your Feet® home safety checklist is a guide that you, your neighbour, friend or a family member can use to check for hazards inside and outside your home. It provides you with simple tips that you can use to make your home safer and reduce your risk of falling.
Visit the how can I prevent falls? page to find out how you can move your body, improve your health and remove hazards to prevent falls.