FYI Daily

Falls and the Elderly

Last updated: Oct 17, 2012


Quick, what causes most older adults' falls? Those pesky throw rugs they're always advised to toss? Getting bumped off balance? How about this: Sitting down, walking, or even standing quietly.

Everyday acts like these account for 70 percent of falls, according to Canadian researchers reporting in The Lancet. The underlying reason: People shift their weight improperly. When they lean a bit too far past their center of gravity, they lose the base of support between the feet and the ground.

To make this discovery, the researchers videotaped long-term care residents over time, eventually capturing 227 falls on tape that they could then analyze.

Understanding exactly why elders fall is important because so much prevention advice hasn't curbed falls, which are a leading cause of downward spirals in health, says Stephen Robinovitch, a researcher at Simon Fraser University who specializes in injury prevention and mobility biomechanics, in the Edmonton Journal.

With this insight in mind, how can you help minimize a loved one's odds of a tumble?

  • Encourage strength training. The British Columbia team saw the faller often held out his or her arms to brace, but was too weak to have it make much difference. Simple daily exercises can help build muscle at any age.

  • Help improve balance. Look for classes designed for older adults, such as those offered by many Arthritis Foundation chapters or senior centers. Tai chi is another great (and easy) balance-booster.

  • Provide support during transitions that involve odd contortions. Try to stay close when a loved one is getting in or out of a chair or car, reaching for something, or turning in an unusual way. That can't cover all instances of improperly shifted weight, obviously, but helps you spot common danger moments.

  • Get rid of furniture with legs. Many of the residents videotaped got tangled in chair or table legs. Furniture with a central base is safer.

  • And yep, ditch those throw rugs. Twenty percent of the falls were caused by accidental trips. Choose the right shoes, too -- they're one of the more surprising cause of falls.

Help spread the word to prevent falls: see our fall prevention tip message on Facebook.