What could be the cause of frequent falls for my father?

10 answers | Last updated: Sep 25, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 80-year-old father frequently falls, and has fallen three times in the last month when he's gotten out of bed to go to the bathroom. He hasn't hurt himself yet, but I'm worried that he could break a hip or injure himself in some other way. What could be the cause of frequent falls, and what can we do to prevent them?

Expert Answers

An adjunct professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, Moira Fordyce is on the board of the American Society on Aging.

There are two kinds of falls in older adults: those that occur as a result of an accident, and those that signal there's some kind of underlying condition. The first kind is seen in more robust elders, can happen anywhere, either at or away from home, is normally a one-time occurrence, and -- if the person is injured -- usually results in a good recovery. Common causes include things like tripping over a rug or slipping on a smooth surface.

The second kind of fall is seen in more frail elders who already have chronic disorders and who need help with day-to-day activities. It usually happens in or near home, the person falls more than once, and it's often a sign of new underlying disease or an indication that one of his existing conditions is getting worse. Common underlying or new diseases associated with these kinds of falls are urinary tract infection, respiratory infection, or heart disease. If the person is injured in a fall of this sort, recovery is usually slow and less complete.

Anything that causes dizziness can lead to a fall -- for example, a sudden drop in blood pressure when the person stands up or gets out of bed at night or light-headedness caused by a medication. So it's a good idea to scrutinize every medicine your father is taking, whether it's a prescription, an over-the-counter drug, or an alternative therapy such as an herbal supplement.

The first question I would ask about your father is, why does he have to get up at night to go to the bathroom? As we age, our kidneys become less efficient, and it's not uncommon for robust older adults to get up once during the night to urinate. When someone needs to get up more than once, though, the underlying cause should be investigated. It could be as simple as drinking too much fluid in the evening, taking a water pill (diuretic) too late in the day, or having a treatable disorder of the urinary tract or prostate gland. It could even be a disorder like diabetes or heart failure, where the body tries to get rid of excess fluid that has accumulated in the tissues.

Your father's doctor can get insight into why he is falling by giving him a thorough medical evaluation, with attention paid to mental and mood testing and gait and balance, as well as a discussion of his day-to-day function. Lab tests should be ordered to help make a diagnosis and manage any disease. A detailed medications and supplements review as described above is a must.

Another step is to make his bedroom and hallway as safe as possible for him if he does need to get up at night.

  • Are there loose rugs?
  • Is the floor slippery?
  • Is the bed too high?
  • Can he see his way to the bathroom?
  • Would a bedside commode be safer and easier for him?

To sum up the ways to help prevent falls and injury:

  • Find out why he's getting up at night.
  • Look for underlying disease and treat it.
  • Make his surroundings safe.

Community Answers

Bebe answered...

As thorough as I'd like to think I am in my father's PD health care mgt, it didn't occur to me in this cs history to ? the # times the pt pottied during the night!

Jaime912 answered...

My mother has same issues. Anytime she gets up out of a sitting or lying down position, she must first take a few deep breaths and let her blood pressure regulate itself. Otherwise, she will get a passing out feeling and fall down. Her doctor calls this Syncope syndrome. Tell your father to make sure he "has his bearings good" before getting up and moving immediately. Hope this helps some. :)

By god's grace answered...

As a 24/7 caregiver for my Mom in her home,all of the above is good knowledge. In addition,since both my parents were fall risks I added bells on their shoes and the door knobs to hear what I couldn't see. I also used a Posey alarm placed under the mattress of the bed, an alarm clipped to a shirt when sitting in a chair, and got a baby monitor with a camera to watch from another room. It gave me more freedom to do other required tasks.Even with all efforts for safety, falls can happen. You do the best you can. God bless both of you.

Cathrn answered...

This happened to my mother. When she was given CT scans and MRI's they found Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Gave her a shunt and she was normal after that, no more falls. Just putting another possibility out there.

Darkay answered...

This gives me food for thought. I'll consult with my husband's doctor. Very little has been discussed about frequent nightly urination and its relationship to liquid intake prior to bedtime. He has fallen twice getting up in the night. Being 92 yrs old and blind doesn't help!

Sohappy2beme2002 answered...

I am only 52 and am noticing that I am falling alot lately. It seems that my ankles just sort of turn. I am not taking any medications that could explain my falls. I read somewhere that research has led some physicians to believe that frequent falls are an early indicator of Alzheimers and dementia. I haven't had an appointment with the doctor yet, but it is definitely a topic I will bring up at the next appointment.

Rockin8655 answered...

If you install a DIY sensor (either pressure-sensitive pad or motion detector, you will be alerted on a monitor of your choice. Look at Val-U-Care.com. They even have cordless or silent alerts, depending on your situation and desires.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Hey. I'm 19 years old. I having this problem too. when I was 6 years old. I still falling down. When I saw someone, something fall down and.

Jay powell answered...

IndeeLift has an answer for fall recovery. Please visit www.indeelift.com for more info.