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Common causes of falls

We look at some of the more common causes of falls and ways these risks can be reduced. Plus, the best course of action if you do trip in the home.
4 min read
In this article
Falls are common but can be serious Why do falls happen? What to do if you fall
How assistive technology can help after a fall

Falls are common but can be serious

Around a third of all people over 65 experience a fall every year, making them a very common problem. 

Most people who have a fall don’t suffer a serious injury, but they can cause fractures and broken bones. In the UK, falls are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in the over 75s. But even a mild tumble can lead to a loss of confidence and independence. 

Why do falls happen?

Falls can happen for a number of reasons, but older people are more likely to experience one. Knowing the most common causes of slips and trips can help you avoid them.

Normal ageing 

Older people are more at risk of falls due to the natural ageing process. Changes to sight, hearing and strength can make you more likely to slip. The medication you’re taking may also put you more at risk of a fall – ask your GP or pharmacist if you’re worried about potential side effects of tablets. And make sure you have regular eye and hearing tests so any problems can be quickly identified. 

NHS eye tests and hearing tests are free for the over 60s. Read more about how to arrange a test and other vision and hearing health tips.

Avoidable hazards

Many older people fall for reasons that may be ‘avoidable’; for example, loose carpets or rugs that present a trip hazard, or insufficient lighting on a stairway. By carrying out a few simple checks, you may be able to help your loved one make their home safer. You can visit our information on preventing a fall to help you reduce the risk of falls in the home.

Moving from one position to another 

A significant number of falls in older people occur during ‘transfers’. This is the term a healthcare professional, such as an occupational therapist, uses to describe the act of moving (or attempting to move) from one position to another.

For example going from:

  • Sitting to standing, such as getting out of a chair or bed.
  • Standing to sitting, such as lowering down on to a chair or bed.
  • Sitting to another sitting position, such as moving from a toilet to a wheelchair, or vice versa.

Even though those movements and tasks may seem simple – and you may have recently performed them confidently – they can present a challenge if you become less mobile or your strength reduces.

In many cases, transfers and other activities can be made easier and safer by the use of certain equipment, aids or technologies. Occupational therapists often have excellent knowledge of these products, and can advise on suitable solutions based on abilities and needs.

You may also benefit from exercises to help improve your mobility, strength or balance. A physiotherapist can provide further advice.

Bad weather

Older people are at particular risk of falls in colder weather. Icy streets or fallen leaves can make paths slippery and mean you can lose your balance more easily. A sturdy pair of shoes with non-slip soles are an absolute must after the summer months. If the weather’s really bad – think downpours or snow storms – it’s usually best to avoid going out if possible. 

You may find a mobility aid (such as a walking stick or rollator) may give you more confidence when you’re out and about. You can read more about the different options in our guide to mobility aids.

Stairs

Stairs are also a major risk area for falls. Read our advice on how to spot common hazards on stairs and stairways, as well as tips on how to reduce the risk of falls on the stairs.

What to do if you fall

Falls prevention efforts are great but you can’t always avoid every possible hazard. If you do have a fall, it’s important to stay calm. You may feel you can get up without assistance, but don’t do it too quickly as you may still be in shock.  

Roll onto your hands and knees and look around for a piece of stable furniture (such as a sofa or bed) you can use to support yourself. When you feel ready, slowly pull yourself up. Make sure to sit down and rest for a little while before you get on with your daily tasks.

If you can’t get up without help, try and get somebody’s attention. Shout or bang on the wall or floor. Or, if you’re able to crawl to the telephone, call 999. While you wait for assistance, see if you can pull a blanket (or anything warm, like a dressing gown or coat) onto you. Try and stay as comfortable as you can until someone comes to help. 

How assistive technology can help after a fall

Assistive technology can give you reassurance that if you have a fall, help will be available at the push of a button. It can also give provide reassurance to family members or friends who care for you.

If you’re potentially at risk of falling, you might want to think about using a personal alarm or a fall detector so you can summon help if you need it. These are simple devices and you won’t necessarily have to wear them around your neck. For example, there are personal alarms available that look like a watch or can be fastened to a belt.

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Further reading

Falls prevention

If you’ve had a fall, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce the chances of one happening again.

Personal alarms

Read about how personal alarms can help older people feel safer at home and remain independent for longer.

Stair safety

Guidance on avoiding common hazards on stairs and stairways, plus tips on reducing the risk of falls on the stairs.

Last updated: 10 Dec 2019