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Falls are a major problem and cause of injury particularly in people over 65 years of age. Several factors can increase an individual’s risk of falls. While everyone is susceptible to falling, certain circumstances and characteristics can make some people more prone to falls.

Here are some common risk factors:

Advanced age

The risk of falling tends to increase with age. Reduced strength, impaired balance, and changes in gait can contribute to a higher risk of falls among older adults.

Every second of every day, an older adult (age 65+) suffers a fall in the U.S

according to the CDC

While age does increase the risk of falls, falls do not have to be an inevitable part of aging. Although age is a non-modifiable factor, there are many other factors that play a role in balance that can change a person’s risk for falls as they age.

Muscle weakness

Weak muscles, particularly in the lower body and core, can compromise balance and stability, making falls more likely. Muscle weakness can affect the likelihood of falls in multiple ways.

With muscle weakness, the ability to respond promptly to a loss of balance or a trip is compromised. Slower reaction times make it more difficult to recover from a stumble or maintain stability, increasing the likelihood of falling.

Muscle weakness can make it harder to recover from a fall or regain a standing position independently. Weak muscles may not provide sufficient strength and support to lift oneself up from the ground or grab onto nearby objects for support. This lack of ability to recover from a fall can increase the risk of further injury or complications.

Impaired balance and gait

Conditions that affect balance and coordination, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, peripheral neuropathy, or arthritis, can increase the risk of falls.

Muscle weakness can affect coordination, making it more difficult to perform movements smoothly and efficiently. When muscles are weak, it can be challenging to generate enough force and control to execute tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, or stepping over obstacles. Reduced coordination increases the risk of tripping or stumbling, leading to falls.

Vision problems

Poor vision, untreated eye conditions, or wearing the wrong prescription glasses can make it difficult to see hazards and obstacles, heightening the risk of falls. The visual system is an important part of how our body balances. It provides vital information about the environment, including spatial orientation, depth perception, and the location of objects in relation to oneself.

Medications

Certain medications, such as sedatives, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and some blood pressure medications, can cause dizziness, drowsiness, or a drop in blood pressure, making falls more likely. There’s a great article by Harvard Medicine that talks about different medications that can increase your risk of falling. Did you know if someone is taking more than 4 prescription medications it increases their risk of falling regardless of the type of medication? It’s important to have checkups and re-evaluate prescription medications by a PCP (Primary Care Provider) on a regular basis.

Chronic conditions

Individuals with chronic health conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, or cognitive impairments have a higher risk of falls due to associated complications or physical limitations.

Chronic conditions that affect the nervous system, such as stroke, neuropathy, and certain forms of dementia, can result in sensory deficits, cognitive impairment, or muscle weakness, leading to a higher risk of falls.

Chronic conditions like heart disease, arrhythmias, and low blood pressure can cause sudden lightheadedness or fainting spells, increasing the risk of falls, especially if they occur unexpectedly.

Persistent pain from conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or back problems can affect mobility, limit physical activity, and increase the likelihood of falls.

Environmental hazards

Cluttered pathways, uneven surfaces, poor lighting, slippery floors, and lack of safety measures at home or in public places can significantly increase the likelihood of falls. Pets can even be environmental hazards that can increase the risk of falls.

History of previous falls

If someone has fallen before, their risk of experiencing another fall is higher. Additionally, the fear of falling can lead to restricted movements and reduced physical activity, further increasing the risk.

Foot problems

Ill-fitting shoes, foot pain, or foot deformities can affect balance and stability, increasing the chances of falling. It’s important to address foot concerns with your PCP and make sure to wear supportive footwear.

Lifestyle factors

Sedentary behavior, lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and alcohol consumption can contribute to muscle weakness, impaired balance, and other factors that heighten the risk of falls.

It’s important to note that the presence of one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean an individual will experience a fall. However, recognizing these factors can help individuals and healthcare professionals take appropriate measures to reduce the risk, such as exercise programs, home modifications, medication adjustments, vision checks, and fall prevention strategies.