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Can Underlying Health Issues Cause Senior Falls?

February 08, 2021

Taking a tumble is never good for your body. But as you age, you are at higher risk of falling, and the injuries can be more severe. Each year, one in four senior citizens (more than 3 million Americans) is injured in a fall, often resulting in broken bones or traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Falling is the leading cause of injury-related deaths over the age of 65, but aging itself does not cause falls. They usually happen because of health complications, medications, decreases in mobility or preventable trip hazards. Pinpointing the cause, before or after a fall, can guard against further injuries and identify hidden medical issues. So where do you start looking?

Not Just Age

Several health factors can trigger a fall, from ordinary ailments to more serious concerns. Your medical history should shed some clues, but your doctor may recommend screening for any of the following:

  • Dehydration. This can lead to urinary tract infections and kidney problems that may cause confusion and weakness.

  • Vitamin deficiency. Vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies can cause anemia. Having a deficit of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, resulting in weak or brittle bones. 

  • Vascular and endocrine health. Monitoring blood pressure and blood sugar levels regularly will help to prevent diabetes or hypoglycemia.

  • Vision/hearing impairment. Vision tests help check for acuity decline due to aging or outdated prescription lenses and hearing tests for vertigo or concussion.

  • Stroke or atrial fibrillation. Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans or electrocardiograms can help identify signs. 

What May Lead to a Fall 

Medications can come with side effects, including dizziness, drowsiness and numbness, which can lead to a fall. Some offenders include:

  • Anti-anxiety medications such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan)

  • Antihistamines used in allergy medicines or night-time pain relievers

  • Prescription painkillers such as codeine, hydrocodone or fentanyl

  • Prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids

  • Antidepressants such as amitriptyline

  • Illegal drugs or narcotics

  • Alcohol 

Before taking any medication, speak to your doctor about side effects and how it could interact with other prescriptions or supplements you’re taking.

Staying on Your Feet

Staying agile and strong goes a long way to avoid falls. To offset decreased mobility that comes with aging, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, stay active and incorporate balance exercises such as yoga and tai chi into your daily routine. Regular podiatry tests can check for thinning muscles in the foot and ankles, swelling and tenderness or structural changes that can cause diminished mobility and balance. And put aside any negative attitudes associated with the use of mobility aids such as walkers or canes. It’s always better to come in using a walker than to go out on a stretcher!

Finally, take a look at your environment and correct any obvious trip hazards, such as loose rugs, clutter or poor lighting. Taking small proactive steps to safeguard you from an accidental slip or fall can make a big difference. And should you (or a loved one) fall, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Even seemingly minor falls can develop into bigger injuries or issues if left unchecked.

 

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