Preventing Falls in the Elderly

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, October 2, 2016, as published by Healthcare Hot Spot


For people over the age of 65, falling can result in tremendous consequences that range from broken bones to head injuries and even death. In the United States alone, one out of every three seniors falls every year (National Council on Aging, 2016). Additionally, once a senior falls, it is even more likely that they will experience another fall (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Every 11 seconds, a senior is treated in an emergency department for a fall; every 19 minutes, a senior dies due to falling (NCOA, 2016). While falls are dangerous to the health of the elderly, experiencing a fall can also cause many elderly to decrease their activity level, which in turn only makes them weaker and more prone to falling (CDC, 2016). 

Whether educating patients about preventing falls in their own homes or trying to prevent falls in a hospital, the following are just a few helpful tips to promote safety among the elderly:

  1. Environmental Hazards: At home, the patient should remove tripping hazards like throw rugs or clutter.  In the hospital, the patient’s bed should be lowered so that the patient can easily get in and out of bed safely.  Supportive shoes should always be worn when walking, instead of wearing only socks, shoes with smooth leather soles, or backless slippers.
  2. Medications: Sedatives, tranquilizers, anti-hypertensives, and other medications that affect balance and steadiness should be assessed to determine a patient’s level of fall risk.
  3. Assess Vision: Age-related eye changes to consider include reduced depth perception, reduced visual field, and reduced color perception and environmental contrast. Does the patient wear glasses with a current prescription? Are those glasses kept in a convenient place for the patient to access in the middle of the night? Are there any eye issues, like cataracts, that could affect the patient’s vision?  These are all important questions to assess your patient’s vision and risk of falling.  Keep walkways and dim areas well-lit.
  4. Assess Hearing: Age-related hearing loss or inner ear infection could affect safety as well as balance. Wax buildup in the elderly can make it harder for them to hear. Determine if the patient requires a hearing check for any disease processes or if hearing aids should be utilized.

Work with your patients in all settings to develop a fall prevention plan. One half of all seniors who fall don’t report the incident to their physician (CDC, 2016). Many elderly assume that falling is just part of aging and that there’s nothing they could do about it. Falls are preventable, and elderly patients may be apprehensive to initiate a conversation about falling, so it’s up to the healthcare team to ask about falls and to address this important issue. 

For more on this topic, search the CareerSmart CE Online Course Catalog.


National Council on Aging (2016).  Falls Prevention: Fact Sheet.  Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/resources/falls-prevention-fact-sheet/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016, January 20).  Important Facts About Falls.  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html

October 2, 2016

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