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Diseases & Conditions

Preventing Falls & Hip Fractures

Falls are common, often dreaded events in the lives of older people. Aside from the injuries and even death that might result, falling can cause wide-ranging problems, including pain, loss of independence, mental decline, and decreased activity and mobility (movement).

The treatment of injuries and the complications associated with falls costs more than $20 billion a year. Already a serious national health concern, increases in falls and injuries among older people could reach epidemic levels as the population ages.

Fortunately, research has shown that most falls can be prevented, and many medical risk factors for falling can be controlled. Simple common sense precautions can reduce, if not eliminate, this serious threat to the health and well-being of older persons.

Who falls?

These are the risk factors for falls:

  • Older women, especially Caucasian women, are at highest risk.
  • The number of falls and the severity of injury increase with age. This is also true for seniors who, for whatever reason, have less physical conditioning, mobility, and balance.
  • People who use several prescription and over-the-counter medicines fall more often.
  • The use of alcohol often contributes to falling problems.
  • Those with medical conditions affecting balance and walking ability, such as Parkinson's disease and stroke, also are vulnerable.

Where do falls occur?

Although you might expect falls to occur with risky activities, such as walking outdoors or in bad weather, more than 60% of falls happen in the home. Falls in the community account for 30% percent, and only 10% of falls occur in institutions such as nursing homes. Remember that falls can happen at any time, in any place, to anyone, even when the person is simply doing ordinary activities.

How can I prevent falls?

Preventing falls is important at any age, but it is especially important for people who have osteoporosis, because their bones are more fragile and easily broken. Each year, about one-third of people 65 years and older will fall, and some will be disabled by the broken bones that can follow.

In many cases, a fall can be brought on by medicines such as sedatives, muscle relaxants, and blood pressure drugs that can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of balance. When two or more medicines are used in combination, these side effects might be worsened. Falls also result from problems with hearing, vision, muscle strength, coordination, and reflexes, as well as from diseases that affect balance.

How can I reduce my risk of falling?

  • Regular follow-up visits — Get proper medical evaluation and treatment for conditions that cause physical changes. Do not assume you are just "getting older."
  • Floors — Remove all loose wires, cords, and throw rugs. Get rid of clutter. Make sure rugs are secure and smooth. Keep furniture in its usual place.
  • Bathroom — Install grab bars and non-skid tape in the tub or shower.
  • Lighting — Make sure halls, stairways, and entrances are well-lit. Install a night light in your bathroom. Turn lights on if you get up in the middle of the night.
  • Kitchen — Install non-skid rubber mats near the sink and stove. Clean spills immediately.
  • Stairs — Make sure treads, rails, and rugs are secure.
  • Other precautions — Wear sturdy, rubber-soled shoes. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Ask your health care provider whether any of your medicines might cause you to fall. Avoid risky behaviors. Do not become overly fearful about falling, as fear will only encourage inactivity and immobility.
  • Take action — Inactivity is dangerous. Exercise improves strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility, which can help you avoid falling in the first place.

What is osteoporosis (brittle bones)?

Osteoporosis is a disease that can cause a great deal of disability, but it can be prevented and treated.

Osteoporosis causes bones to become fragile and more likely to break. If it is not prevented, or if it is not treated, osteoporosis can develop painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, usually occur in the hip, spine, and wrist.

Any bone can be affected, but fractures of the hip and spine are of special concern. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can weaken a person's ability to walk without help, and can cause prolonged or permanent disability — or even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.

Millions of Americans are at risk of developing osteoporosis. Although women are four times more likely than men to develop the disease, men also suffer from osteoporosis.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/7/2015...#10577