Falls and Older Adults

Making Personal Changes

Personal Changes Can Make a Difference

Falls and fractures are not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls result from personal or lifestyle factors that can be changed. Your doctor can assess your risk of falling and suggest ways to prevent falls.

At your next check-up, talk with your doctor about your risk of falling and changes you might make. Also, let your doctor know if you've fallen or almost fallen. You might be referred to another health care provider who can help, such as a physical therapist.

Here are some changes you might make.

  • Be physically active.
  • Have your medicines reviewed.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Have your blood pressure checked when lying and standing.
  • Get a vision check-up. Avoid multifocal glasses when walking.
  • Choose safe footwear.

(Watch the videos on this page to learn more about making personal changes to prevent falls. To enlarge the videos, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner of the video screen. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Be Physically Active

Regular physical activity is a first line of defense against falls and fractures. Physical activity strengthens muscles and increases flexibility and endurance. Your balance and the way you walk may improve with exercise, decreasing the chances of a fall.

It's important to keep muscles strong. Strengthening muscles in the lower body can improve balance. Work with your doctor or a physical therapist to plan a physical activity program that is right for you. See exercises that can build lower body strength.

A supervised group program can help with balance and gait training. Strength and balance exercises done at home can also reduce your risk of falls. This will help improve your balance and strength. See exercises that can help your balance.

Tai Chi is one type of exercise that may help prevent falls by improving balance and control. This exercise uses slow, flowing movements to help people relax and coordinate the mind and body. It can also boost your self-confidence. Dancing and other rhythmic movements can help as well.

Mild weight-bearing exercise -- such as walking or climbing stairs -- may help slow bone loss from osteoporosis. Having strong bones can prevent fractures if you do fall. See exercises that can build bone strength.

Your doctor or a physical therapist can check your walking and balance. They might do a "Get-Up and Go" test. This simple test shows how steady you are when you get up from a chair. The test also is used to check your walking ability.

Have Your Medicines Reviewed

Find out about the possible side effects of medicines you take. Some medications might affect your coordination or balance, or cause dizziness, confusion, or sleepiness. Some medications don't work well together, adding to your risk of falls.

Bring your prescribed and over-the-counter medicines with you when you visit the doctor. Also bring any vitamins, minerals, and herbal products you are taking.

Your pharmacist can also be helpful in answering your questions about possible side effects from medicines. Ask about how the combination of all your drugs might affect your balance or walking, or your risk of falling. Never stop taking your medications unless you talk with your doctor first.

Get tips on taking medicines safely.

Limit Alcohol Use

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Even a small amount can affect your balance and reflexes. In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls, which can result in hip or arm fractures and other injuries. Older people have thinner bones than younger people, so their bones break more easily. Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.

See safe drinking limits for older adults.

Have Your Blood Pressure Checked When Lying and Standing

Some older people have normal or increased blood pressure while seated, but their blood pressure drops too much on standing. There is no way to know unless you check. Tell your doctor if you feel faint or unsteady when you get up from sitting or lying down.

Get a Vision Check-Up

Even small changes in sight can make you less stable. Have your vision checked regularly or if you think it has changed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. This person can provide visual devices if you need them and teach you how to use them. He or she can also offer helpful suggestions about the best lighting for you and about not wearing your multi-focals when you walk or use the stairs.

If you are age 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. If you are at increased risk for or have any age-related eye disease, you may need to see your eye care professional more often. Learn more about comprehensive dilated eye exams.

Wear your eyeglasses so you can see your surroundings clearly. Keep them clean and check to see that the frames are straight. When you get new glasses, be extra cautious while you are getting used to them. If you use reading glasses or multi-focal lenses, take them off when you're walking. They can distort your sense of distance and lead to a fall.

Choose Safe Footwear

Our feet have nerves that help us judge the position of our bodies. To work correctly, our feet need to be in touch with the ground and our shoes need to stay securely with the foot as we take each step. Otherwise, falls may occur.

It's important to select your footwear carefully to help prevent falls. Wear sensible, low-heeled shoes that fit well and support your feet. There should be no marks on your feet when you take off your shoes and socks.

Your shoes should completely surround your feet. Wearing only socks or wearing floppy, backless slippers or shoes without backs can be unsafe. Also, choose shoes with non-slip soles. Smooth soles can cause you to slip on waxed or polished floors.