Skip to content

50+: Live Better, Longer

Conquering Fear of Falling

Stop the Drop
Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Feb. 18, 2002 -- Falling down isn't what it used to be. Remember slipping and sliding as a kid? Afterward, you'd jump up, pretending you weren't hurt. And a cast was good for autographs and bragging rights.

But even a minor fall can make older adults overly cautious. Various surveys show that 40% to 73% of people over age 60 who have fallen fear falling again, and half of those people restrict their activities as a result. (The worry is greatest -- and more justified -- in frail older people.)

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

Myths About Exercise and Older Adults

Have you given up on exercise? A lot of older people do -- just one out of four people between the ages of 65 and 74 exercises regularly. Many people assume that they're too out-of-shape, or sick, or tired, or just plain old to exercise. They're wrong. "Exercise is almost always good for people of any age," says Chhanda Dutta, PhD, chief of the Clinical Gerontology Branch at the National Institute on Aging. Exercise can help make you stronger, prevent bone loss, improve balance and coordination,...

Read the Myths About Exercise and Older Adults article > >

"Some won't go on family outings or even leave home," says Edward Vandenberg, MD, geriatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

It's estimated that one in every three people over age 65 will experience a fall in any given year. Half of all falls cause only minor injury; 2% are fatal. Among seniors in nursing homes, 88% of falls are due to physical or medical problems. For older people who live in the community, 59% of falls are due to physical or medical conditions, and the rest result from accidents or tripping over obstacles.

Stop the Drop Before It Stops You

Vandenberg would like to halt a cycle he sees all too often. It starts with a fall, then inactivity, then weakness and finally greater risk for falling and injury. So many of the injuries he sees are preventable that he's entitled his public presentation on falling, "Old Age Isn't for Sissies," and explains, "If you want to enjoy old age, you have to work at it."

Limiting activity won't prevent falls, experts say. Self-defense will. Here are some tips to help you come up with a plan to prevent falls, for yourself or for an older person you know.

Reduce Environmental Risks

About 85% of falls occur at home. Many could be prevented if you:

  • Make sure you have adequate lighting.
  • Eliminate obstacles, such as throw rugs, clutter, and electrical cords.
  • Install handrails on stairs and grab bars near toilets and bathtubs.
  • Have a home safety assessment. (Often these assessments are done after a fall, but it's smart to be proactive. A doctor orders the assessment, which is covered by Medicare, and an occupational therapist or visiting nurse actually does it.)

Today on WebMD

blueberries
Eating for a longer, healthier life.
romantic couple
Dr. Ruth’s bedroom tips for long-term couples.
 
womans finger tied with string
Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
man reviewing building plans
Do you know how to stay healthy as you age?
 
fast healthy snack ideas
Article
how healthy is your mouth
Tool
 
dog on couch
Tool
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
champagne toast
Slideshow
Two women wearing white leotards back to back
Quiz
 
Man feeding woman
Slideshow
two senior women laughing
Article