April 18, 2018 by ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute  
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WHY DO ELDERLY PEOPLE FALL?

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Tid Bits of Info

  • Over 3 million elderly people seek treatment at the ER from fall-related injuries every year.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in the elderly.
  • Greater than 30% of the elderly population goes barefoot or wears slippers in their house.
  • Proper screening can reduce the incidence of falls between 30-40%.
  • Physical Therapists are excellent healthcare professionals to perform a fall risk screen and prescribe interventions to prevent them from occurring.

Falling down can be painful and even dangerous. When elderly people fall, they may experience long term or permanent disability, their quality of life may drop, and they could even die. Every year healthcare workers treat over three million people for falling who are above 65 years old. Falls can often be prevented with proper care by the patients and support from family and caregivers around them.

Elderly people fall sometimes because of lack of exercise and activity. As a result, they suffer from very poor strength throughout the musculoskeletal system and one of the most important areas is the core and hip strength.  Sitting and being sedentary for prolonged periods of time can cause a decrease in flexibility, strength and muscular endurance.  The inability of the muscles to generate enough force to move a limb can lead to someone’s inability to adjust and “catch” their balance if they stumble.  Being weak and deconditioned in one of the major causes leading to a fall.

Weakness and fear can cause people to alter the way they walk. They usually walk slower, have a wider stance and many times are slightly hunched over. They believe these adjustments will provide better stability while they are weight bearing. Many of these individuals have friends or family who have fallen and knowing how severe a fall can lead to fear of them falling which makes them very stiff and anxious.

Lack of exercise and altered gait can contribute to falling. Pain, lack of feeling, and misaligned feet are other reasons why elderly people fall. As bodies ages, joint can deteriorate, causing pain,  limited motion,  and loss of strength. At the same time, certain age-related physiological changes can lead to loss of sensation in the feet.  These peripheral neuropathies can cause someone to be unaware of the exact placement of the foot when taking a step. This can cause loss of balance and falling especially if someone steps on an uneven or unstable surface.  Finally, it has been stated that 80% or more of all people over the age of 65 have some sort of foot pathology.  This pathology includes bunions, calluses and hammer toes.  The malalignment of the ankle, foot, and toes can lead to balance issues and cause a fall.

Healthcare professionals and caregivers need to ask the elderly if they have lower extremity pain.  The question of foot pain and sensation loss has to be asked and then a physical exam should be performed.  The problem could be as simple as an ill-fitting shoe.  It is predicted that nearly 50% of all women and 30% of all men have not had their shoe size measured within 5 years. Many people in this age range deal with balance and gait disorders on a daily basis.  Obviously, this makes them more susceptible to falling.

Everyone has to help our elderly population avoid a fall.  It is essential to conduct regular and proper screening of balance, strength, dizziness, vision, medication use, foot/ankle issues and the overall safety of living quarters.  When screening the elderly there cannot be a feeling of “hurting their feelings or invading their privacy” when asking questions about their health.  These individuals are more prone to falling simply due to their age.  Helping them avoid a fall must be a priority for everyone that comes in contact with them.

Falling can cause major injuries and even death. Preventing a fall in an elderly person has to be a “team” effort where proper screening techniques are used by everyone that comes in contact with that person.


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