Millions of adults aged 65 and older fall in the United States every year. Friends and family are often unaware of these accidents, as falling, whether it be the first time or the fifth time, can signal a loss of independence to the victim.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated $50 billion is spent a year on medical costs from non-fatal falls. Falling is the No. 1 injury for adults 65 and older, with 3 million adults visiting the emergency room each year.

Older adults often develop a fear of falling, causing them to limit their physical and social activities and negatively affect their quality of life. Being open and honest about falls and taking proactive measures can help prevent concerns over independence, health and safety of loved ones.

Get Moving

One of the most important ways to prevent falling is to remain active.

Activities that increase strength and balance are recommended. Classes and programs helpful to older adults include the evidence-based Matter of Balance program, the martial art tai chi, the balance and fitness program Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL), Enhanced Fitness and Silver Sneakers, which is free to people 65 and older through select Medicare plans.

Classes in these programs are offered by local Area Agencies on Aging, senior centers, hospitals and YMCAs, among others.

Older adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, but they should be careful not to over exert themselves, said Kim McFarland, trauma outreach and injury prevention coordinator for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

“[Take breaks if needed] while exercising,” McFarland said, “Remember, some physical activity is better than none at all.”

Home Safety

By taking preventive measures within the home and focusing on potential trouble spots, the risk for falling and accidents decreases.

LIGHTS Increase lighting throughout the house. Have a light that is easy to reach when getting up in the middle of the night.

STAIRS Make sure indoor and outdoor stairs are well-lit, especially at night. Have secure handrails and make sure the stairs are clean and free from clutter.

BATHROOMS Make sure grab bars are installed, according to the manufacturer’s specifications, in the shower or bathtub area, as well as by the toilet. Shower chairs and detachable, handheld shower heads are also recommended.

FLOORS Remove rugs or use double-sided tape to secure them in place. Keep floors free of clutter. Make sure there are no cords that could pose a tripping hazard.

KITCHEN Put items that are used on a daily basis within reach on the lowest shelves. Immediately clean up spills. The best rugs for kitchens have heavy-backed rubber bottoms that keep them in place.

• Exercise may help older adults feel hungrier if they have begun to lose their appetite.
• Approximately one-third of adults 65 and older in Texas have fallen.
• Women over the age of 65 are 29% more likely
to fall.
• Hypotension can increase the risk of falling.
• Having sight and hearing tested regularly can help to prevent falls.

Contributing Factors

Some over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as herbal supplements, can cause side effects that contribute to falling, such as dizziness, dehydration and sleepiness, or they can interact with one another to cause falls.

It is important to keep a list of medications you are taking and why you are taking them, and to review it with your doctor or another health care provider.

Certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes, can make you more at risk for falls because of the lack of physical activity.

Personal Changes

There are a number of personal changes that one can make in daily life to prevent falling, McFarland said.

Older adults should stand up slowly. Standing up too quickly can cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to lightheadedness and dizziness.

Use an assistive device, if needed, and make sure it functions properly. Using a cane or a walker can prevent falls. Make sure the device is adjusted to fit your height, and if using a walker, make sure the wheels roll smoothly.

Laura Abey, rehab director for Trinity Terrace retirement community in Fort Worth, said that while transitioning to using an assistive device can be difficult, it can prolong independence, as well as prevent hospitalization.

“This can be a hard transition, as it can feel like we are admitting or caving to aging,” Abey said. “However, oftentimes, an assistive device can keep you going and functioning independently for a lot longer and prevent falls that may cause injury and hospitalization.”

Wear proper footwear. Shoes with a non-skid or a rubber sole help to lessen the likelihood of falling. Avoid high heels and look for shoes that provide full support for your feet.

Sources: National Institute on Aging, U.S. National Library of Medicine, CDC