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Why Falls Are So Serious for Older Adults

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suffered a concussion last month when he tripped and fell at a hotel. This was not the first time the 81-year-old had fallen; in 2019 he fell outside his home and fractured a shoulder.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that every year one out of four of those over 65 suffer falls.

One reason our primary care doctors in Delray Beach are so concerned about our patients falling is that one-quarter of seniors who fall and fracture a hip will die within six months of their injury. That’s because they generally take longer to heal, may need surgery, and may be confined to bed for extended periods, which can induce muscle wasting and decreased stamina.

Facts on Falls

The CDC provides other facts about falls in older adults:

  • One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
  • Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
  • More than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
  • Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older.

In addition, many people who fall become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities, and when a person is less active, they become weaker, thereby increasing their chances of falling, creating a vicious cycle of frailty.

One final fact: The CDC says that fewer than half of seniors who fall report it to their doctors.

“Many older adults are afraid their independence will be taken away if they admit to falling, and so they minimize it,” Dr. Lauren Southerland, an Ohio State University emergency physician who specializes in geriatric care, told the Associated Press (AP).

Seniors More Vulnerable

After McConnell’s fall, The Washington Post spoke to Laurie Jacobs, chair of the Department of Medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center and past president of the American Geriatrics Society.

“A fall can result in injury, such as a fracture, which may affect an older adult’s ability to function independently,” she said.

As people age, their bones become more brittle, healing can take longer in an older body, and many seniors have existing health conditions that may be exacerbated by—or even cause—a fall, the paper reported.

“For the elderly, a fall is a life-changing, and potentially life-ending event,” Christine Kistler, associate professor in geriatric and family medicine at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine, told The Post.

The CDC reports that about 36 million falls are reported among older adults each year, resulting in more than 32,000 deaths.

Why Seniors Fall More

Older adults are more likely to fall than other age groups, for several reasons.

They are more likely to have impaired vision, dizziness, and other health issues, as well as a lack of strength and the agility to find their feet once they lose their balance.

In addition, many older Americans take medications for sleep disorders, anxiety, high blood pressure, or chronic pain. While such drugs are necessary, and often lifesaving, their side effects can cause drowsiness, loss of balance, changes in vision, slower reaction time, and other effects that increase the risk of falling.

Ill-fitting footwear, or shoes with slippery soles, are another possible cause. Even something as common as lined bifocals can interfere with spatial perception, leading to difficulty in seeing where to step and triggering falls.

Another often-overlooked possibility is simple dehydration, whether from illness, warmer weather, or just neglecting to drink liquids as often as the body needs.

“In my experience, many people who faint and fall are dehydrated,” Barbara White, executive director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University at Long Beach, told Consumer Reports.

Prevention is Key

The CDC says, “Falls are not a normal part of aging.” Here are some ways to prevent them.

1. Survey your home for tripping triggers and unsafe areas. Keep things off the floor, use double-sided tape to secure throw rugs, and ensure cords and cables are out of the way. If you have animals that tend to get in your way as you walk, be especially aware of them.

2. Install handrails on both sides of staircases, and add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower.

3. Aging can affect the ability to see well in the dark. So add sufficient lighting throughout the home to aid in visual perception, including nightlights in every room, especially the bedroom, hallway, and bathroom.

4. Have your eyes checked at least once a year, and update your glasses to ensure optimal vision. Ask your optometrist whether no-line bifocals might be right for you.

5. Perform strength and balance exercises to improve your muscle tone and increase your balance. Tai Chi, a gentle routine of slow-motion exercises, has been shown in numerous studies to not only increase balance but to decrease dizziness, a common cause of falls.

The National Council on Aging has a list of evidence-based fall prevention programs that can help reduce the risk of falling. (

The CDC sponsors the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, & Injuries (STEADI) program ( to provide information about fall prevention and other safety issues.

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