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Why are falls so dangerous for the elderly?

Learn about why falls are dangerous for the elderly and tips to reduce fall risks and get timely help.

July 03, 2024

Elderly woman had a fall at home

People over the age of 65 are at the highest risk of falling, whether that’s at home, in the garden or elsewhere. This risk increases even more with age, meaning that every ten seconds, someone in the UK aged 80 or older experiences a fall.

When someone in later life falls over, especially if they don’t receive the right assistance in a timely way, the consequences for their health and wellbeing can be serious.

In this article, we look at why falls are so dangerous for the elderly, what causes most falls and where they occur. We also provide some tips and advice for reducing the risk of falling for older adults and how to maximise the chances of getting the right help quickly if they do have a fall.

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What causes falls in the elderly?

There are many different things that can cause older adults to have a fall. Even elderly people that have always been fit and well are at greater risk of falling than those who are younger, due to having slower reactions. Some of the main reasons older people fall over include:

  • Tripping over something that they haven’t seen or have misjudged
  • Poor lighting, meaning that they can’t see hazards clearly
  • Uneven surfaces, flooring or steps causing a loss of balance
  • Slipping over on a wet or icy surface
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of balance
  • Sight loss, meaning they can’t spot hazards as well or misjudge distances
  • Illness or medication interactions that cause dizziness, weakness or loss of balance

You can find out more in our guide to the common causes of falls in the elderly.

Where do most falls occur in the elderly?

There are lots of places within the home and outside that can have an increased risk of falls. These include:

Elderly falls in bathrooms

With potentially wet and slippery floors, plus extra hazards such as stepping into or out of baths and showers that may be raised, or changing levels to sit on or get up from the loo, bathrooms can have a higher risk of falls occurring. There is usually hard flooring and other solid surfaces in bathrooms, so the risk of injury when falling can also be higher.

Elderly falls because of stairs or steps

Going up or down the stairs can be a fall risk for some older people, especially if they struggle with balance, are known to have dizzy spells or get tired very easily. The risk of injury if falling on the stairs is high. Some older people choose to move to a home that is all on one level, such as an apartment or bungalow, or some may have a stairlift installed to help reduce the risk of falls on the stairs, but this isn’t always possible for everyone.

Steps, whether it’s a step outside the front or back door of the home, changes of level between rooms or steps that are encountered when out and about, can also cause falls if the older person isn’t expecting the sudden step up or down.

Elderly falls in hallways

It might be surprising, but hallways can be a common location for falls in older adults. This might be because there is some clutter and the lighting may not be adequate, which can increase the risk of a fall. Hallways that lead to bathrooms can be even more of a common place for falls to occur, as if the older person is rushing to the loo, this can make a trip and fall more likely.

Elderly falls in bedrooms

Bedrooms are a common place for elderly falls because a lot of falls seem to occur when someone gets out of bed, usually at night when there isn’t always enough light to see properly. The sudden change in level can sometimes cause dizziness or a loss of balance, making a fall more likely.

Elderly falls in living rooms

A living room can be an area of the home that also has a higher risk of a fall happening. Some older people find that when they stand up to move around the room, especially if they have been sitting for some time, they experience muscle stiffness, dizziness or loss of balance, which can cause a fall. If the living room is cluttered or has trip hazards at floor level, this can also increase the fall risk.

Elderly falls in kitchens

Kitchens are another room in the home where the fall risk can be increased, due to reasons such as a potentially slippery floor, as liquid or food spills can be common in the kitchen. Clutter and narrow walkways can also contribute to a higher fall risk in some kitchens.

As with bathrooms, having a hard floor and other surfaces can also increase the risk of injury if a fall in the kitchen does happen.

Elderly falls when outside the home

Elderly woman hurt after slipping on steps

It’s not just falls indoors that older people need to consider, there is also a fall risk in the garden or when out and about in public. Some of the hazards in these areas can include:

  • Slippery surfaces, caused by wet or icy conditions
  • Uneven surfaces, such as broken pavement or kerbs to navigate
  • Poor lighting if walking outside after dark
  • Poor weather conditions, such as high winds, as well as things like heavy rain, snow or ice.

What are common injuries from elderly falls

Thankfully, not every fall in the elderly results in serious injury, but some of the health issues that can occur as the result of a fall include:

Fracture injuries from an elderly fall

Bone fractures are more likely in the elderly due to their higher chances of osteoporosis, which weakens the bones over time. Some of the most common fractures caused by a fall can include:

  • Hip or knee fractures, often caused when the older person hits the ground
  • Wrist or hand fractures, often caused when the elderly person puts their hands out to break their fall
  • Spinal fractures, often caused when they land on the ground
  • Head or facial fractures, often caused if they hit their head against something as they fall

Find out more about osteoporosis in elderly people.

Sprains and strains from an elderly fall

It’s not uncommon for an older adult to strain or sprain muscles, tendons or ligaments if they have a fall. This can make it much more difficult for them to get up afterwards without help.

Bruising from an elderly fall

Older people can often bruise easily and the bruises can often last longer than the same injury would in a younger person. Find out more about what causes bruising in the elderly.

Some bruising is usually to be expected after an elderly fall, and bruises can be painful and swollen and look unappealing. Take a look at our guide on how to reduce bruising after a fall.

What are the consequences of elderly falls

In addition to the physical injuries caused by a fall, which can be significant if they affect mobility, require hospital admission, or require surgery, an elderly fall can also have a big impact on the individual’s confidence and independence.

Experiencing a fall, even if they are not seriously hurt, can mean that the older adult is less keen to move around their home like they used to, or go out and about in their community. This can have a negative effect on their mental health and may mean that they start to feel lonely and isolated. It can have a real impact on quality of life.

In the UK, the NHS reports that falls are the most common cause of injury-related death in those over the age of 75, with the original injuries experienced sometimes leading to complications or further illness. Older people’s bodies don’t have the same ability to heal and recover as the younger generations, so recovery isn’t always straightforward or guaranteed. Many older adults also have other existing medical conditions that can also be made worse by a serious fall, leading to further health issues, which are sometimes fatal or can be life-shortening.

What if an older adult waits a long time for help after a fall?

If an elderly person has a fall, is unable to get up from the floor themselves and has to wait a long time for assistance, it can potentially lead to many further issues, as well as any injuries sustained by the fall itself.

Some of the problems related to lying on the floor for a sustained period of time after a fall can include:

  • Dehydration
  • Hypothermia
  • Pneumonia
  • Pressure sores
  • Carpet burns or scrapes from efforts to get up, which can become infected
  • Worsening of the potential outcomes from any injuries sustained e.g. hip fractures usually need surgery as soon as possible for the best chances of success.

An elderly person who falls may have a long wait on the floor for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Being alone at the time of the fall and not being able to reach anyone to help
  • Being injured and unable to be moved by whoever else is there at the time because of the risk of making the injury worse or due to high pain levels
  • A long wait for an ambulance to arrive.

Helping an elderly loved one after a fall

Wife helping her elderly husband after a fall

If you’re there when your elderly relative or friend has a fall, or arrive shortly afterwards, there may be a couple of different ways to help them.

  • Firstly, you can raise the alarm if they are injured and need the help of the emergency services.
  • Secondly, if they are not injured, you might be able to lift them off the floor and increase their chances of a better outcome after their fall.
  • Finally, you can help reassure them while either waiting for assistance to arrive or until they feel calmer and are able to get back on their feet if they are not injured.

You can read our guide on what to do if an elderly person falls for step-by-step tips on how to handle the situation. You might also find it useful to read our guide on how to lift an elderly person who has fallen, in case you are ever in that position.

Once the immediate situation has been taken care of, you might want to think about what you can do to reduce the risk of further falls in the future and make sure that your elderly loved one can always reach for assistance if they do have an accident or fall when no one else is there.

You can take our free falls risk assessment for advice on helping to prevent falls in the future and one of our personal alarms can bring peace of mind that help is always just the press of a button away.

View our full range of personal alarms. Our products have a variety of features to suit different lifestyles and preferences. If you have any questions, you can call our customer service team for more information on which personal alarm system would be best suited to your circumstances. Our team is available on 0800 085 7371 (Mon – Fri, 9am – 5pm).

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