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Falls and the elderly – why they happen

Middle-aged daughter with elderly mom and dad

Just as the consequences of a fall become most serious, the risk of a fall becomes greatest.

It may seem that the world is conspiring to make the elderly take serious falls. In fact, after the age of 65 you have a one in three chance of falling in any given year. But the risk factors for falls among the elderly are known, and they can be mitigated.

The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals divides these risk factors into three broad categories: intrinsic (physical), extrinsic (environmental), and situational (specific activities).

Intrinsic factors refer to our physical state, and some are an inevitable consequence of aging. For instance, as we get older we lose our sense of balance. At the same time, we lose the body strength necessary to recover our balance when, for instance, we step on an uneven surface. And, on top of that, our eyesight weakens, including our depth perception and our ability to see in low light.

There are also a long list of conditions that make us more likely to fall, including

  • Anything that affects our blood pressure (such as anemia, heart problems and thyroid disorders)
  • Dementia, stroke, and anything else that affects the function of our brains
  • Arthritis, foot problems, and any other condition that interferes with our gait
  • Glaucoma or any condition that further weakens our vision
  • Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, and other conditions that interfere with our posture or motor functions

Extrinsic factors refer to our physical environment and include such things as

  • Inadequate lighting
  • Throw rugs
  • Slippery floors
  • Obstructed walkways
  • Electrical or extension cords
  • Uneven sidewalks/broken curbs

Situational factors refer generally to things that prevent you from focusing when you are on your feet

  • Walking and talking at the same time
  • Multitasking, or trying to do several things at once
  • Rushing to the bathroom (especially at night, when lighting is inadequate and you are half asleep)
  • Rushing to answer the phone

You may have noticed that most, if not all, of these risks can be either eliminated or compensated for. There’s no reason we can’t have adequate lighting, and there’s no reason we can’t take one thing at a time as we walk. It just takes a little planning and a little effort.

In our next post we will review some of the things you can do to minimize fall risks. As you may be aware, Stay at Home is expert at helping to keep senior citizens safe. Drop us a line if you’d like some help; that’s what we’re here for.

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