Falls and the Elderly



Falls can be deadly for the elderly - here's how to prevent them

  • Falls are the leading cause of injury death for those 65 or older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • About 40 percent of those who need to be hospitalized from a fall won’t be able to live independently again; most can't even return home.
  • Two elderly people die from fall-related injuries every day in California, on average. How at risk are you? 


  • Common causes for falls:
    • Frailty and weakness
    • Medications that cause lightheadedness or dizziness; drug combinations; taking medications at the wrong time
    • Tripping hazards such as throw rugs, clutter and electrical cords
    • Poor lighting; diminished eyesight
    • Bad balance; lack of exercise; atrophied muscles
    • Poor nutrition; dehydration
    • Inner ear issues; impaired depth perception
    • Fear of falling; taking tentative steps
    The San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force recommends: Eat well and drink lots of water; track all medications and take them when prescribed. And keep active to improve not just your overall health but strength, flexibility and balance.
    This New York Times story and related videos explore how the Dutch are teaching seniors how to prevent falls — and how to fall correctly. If you are a caregiver, watch it with your loved one. It’s a great teaching tool.
    Prevent falls at home
    Most fixes aren’t complicated and they are free or relatively inexpensive:
    • Clear out the clutter and keep passageways open
    • Remove throw rugs and errant power cords
    • Install grab bars in the shower and near the toilet
    • Install handrails on both sides of stairways.
    • Raise the toilet seat a few inches with an elevated seat, preferably one with arms. They are available at most medical supply and drug stores.
    • Use night lights. Pay particular attention to the home’s key hazard zones: the bathroom and kitchen.
    Geriatric physician Dr. Daniel Sewell says enhanced lighting is one of the most important changes to make.
    “Older people, people with cataracts or diabetes, their visual acuity is diminished,” Sewell said. “If the light isn’t bright enough, they can become sedentary because they’re scared to get up.”
    Atrophy and loss of balance can be the result.
    Sewell is medical director of the Senior Behavioral Health Program at UC San Diego Hillcrest Medical Center.
    “It’s such a simple fix, illuminating a space,” he said. “At home the idea would be as much natural light as possible.” Think larger windows, sky lights, cathedral lighting, floor and table lamps, even lighter paint color choices.
    The floor matters, too
    Floor surfaces should be softer — tile is hard and unforgiving and carpet can be too restricting for someone who uses a wheelchair or walker. Vinyl floors are a happy medium but can also be unexpectedly perilous, Sewell said, because they can be shiny.
    “High gloss can be slippery, and even if it’s not, it’s perceived as slippery. It changes how (people) walk. They walk like they’re on ice, which leads to falls.”
    Who can help?
    If you live in central San Diego, or South or East County, contact Jewish Family Service for free minor home modifications, such as grab bar installation, as part of its Fix-it program. (858)-637-3040.
    In North County, caregivers should call Interfaith Community Services at (760) 489-6380 ext. 204.
    Learn more
    Find more information at stopfalls.org.