Don’t ‘fall’ for misconceptions on falls and aging


By Dr. David Rideout, M.D.

Falling is one of the major factors that impedes the independence of seniors as we age. Complications from falls are the leading cause of death from injuries in older men and women. Over the last decade and with the growing senior population, there has been a significant increase in visits to emergency rooms for fall related injuries. One misconception about falls is that there is not much that we can do to prevent them as we age. In fact, there are steps to help seniors avoid falling and the devastating consequences that can occur from a fall.

Why are falls more common as we age?

In people over 65, there is usually not a singular cause for the increase in falling incidents, but rather several risk factors that make falls more likely. The most common factors are age-related declines in balance and postural stability. Other factors can include: muscular weakness, cognitive impairment, dizziness from low blood pressure or the use of medications, or a history of stroke. Excessive use of alcohol is also associated with an increased fall risk. Having a chronic disease such as osteoarthritis and Parkinson disease increases the risk for falling. There are also environmental issues that can lead to falls. Inadequate lighting, slippery flooring surfaces, and poor visibility in the home are just a few of these. Also being in unfamiliar surroundings can up the risk of falling.

What can you do to help prevent falls as you age?

1. To help alleviate the decline in muscular strength as you age, stay active with low impact physical activity such as swimming, water aerobics, yoga, or Tai Chi. Also, incorporating strength training as a part of your physical activity can help keep your muscles and bones strong.

2. Wear appropriate footwear. Athletic shoes are a great choice. You should also avoid slick soles and stocking feet. Women should wear sensible shoes and avoid wearing high heels.

3. Try to remove hazards from your living environment to avoid tripping. Consider removing throw rugs. Make sure that spills are cleaned up promptly from floors. Make sure that your living space is adequately lit. The addition of nightlights throughout your living space is a good idea. Have flashlights stored in easy to find places in the event of a power outage.

4. Use assistive walking devices, such as canes or walkers, if your doctor determines that they are needed due to physical impairment or limitations.

5. Consider installing assistive devices in your bathroom such as raised toilet seats with handles and grab bars in shower/tub areas. Have hand rails installed on both sides of stairwells in your home.

6. Limit use of alcohol, especially if you are taking prescription medications.

7. Discuss with your physician any history of falls and ask them to assess your fall risk and steps that you can take to avoid falling.

Doctor Rideout is the lead physician at AFC/Doctors Express in the Saugus Center, one of 16 Eastern Massachusetts offices, offering seven-day walk-in urgent medical care. For more information visit Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at