Falls in the Elderly and Preventive Measures
F. Marchetti, PhD, PT
Assistant Professor in the Department
of Physical Therapy
L. Whitney, PhD, PT, NCS, ATC
Assistant Professor in the Departments
of Physical Therapy and Otolaryngology
University of Pittsburgh and the Centers
for Rehab Services
Eye and Ear Institute
Falling is a very common problem in
older adults and can cause catastrophic
results. A fall is defined when a person
is unable to stay upright and ends up
laying on the ground or lower surface.
While it’s not uncommon to fall,
the consequences can be devastating for
seniors. The purpose of this chapter is
to provide you with a better understanding
of how frequently people fall, who is
at risk, what happens to people who fall,
and what can be done to prevent it. This
will be presented by asking questions
we felt you would want answered.
How frequently do falls occur?
Each year in the United States and all
other parts of the western world, about
three in ten adults over the age of 65
experience a fall. While many older persons
will take precautions to prevent further
falls, about one to two in ten adults
will fall more than once a year. Among
those who fall, one out of ten will have
a severe injury due to falling. The older
a person gets, the greater the chance
that he or she will fall. The chance of
falling increases to 50 percent by the
time a person reaches age 80. The chance
of falling gets higher for men above age
What are the consequences of falls to
In all countries in
the western world, the number of persons
older than age 65 is expected to increase.
This means that every year, more and more
people will experience a fall. There can
be grave consequences to the person as
result of a fall. An increase in the number
of people who will fall also will significantly
impact our society and our healthcare
Falls are the leading
cause of injury-related death in the U.S.
Sixty percent of the people who die as
a result of falls are older than 65 years.
Falls are a source of 87 percent of the
fractures sustained by older adults. The
injuries that occur due to falls can result
in expensive hospital and nursing home
care. It is estimated that over three
billion dollars is spent annually caring
for people who have been injured from
a fall. The U.S. government has recognized
the burden that falls place on our society
and healthcare system. This financial
burden is expected to increase as the
number of older adults increases. The
U.S. government has determined that preventing
fall-related deaths and injuries should
be a major public health goal.
What can cause me to fall?
Because so many people
fall and are injured each year, much research
has been done with the aim at prevention.
It is known that falls and injuries are
probably not totally accidental. A number
of risk factors have been identified that
increase your chances for a fall. Recognizing
these risk factors help you to take preventative
measures that may keep you from falling
or becoming injured. These risk factors
are summarized in Tables 11-2 and 11-3.