Why you might fall
Anyone can have a fall but as we get older our risk of falling increases. This can be for a number of reasons and often it’s a combination of factors, such as:
- weak muscles and stiff joints as a result of conditions such as arthritis
- heart conditions or changes in blood pressure
- some health conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease
- hearing problems, which can affect your balance
- changes to your sight
- side effects of some medications
- tiredness or confusion
- alcohol, which affects you more as you get older.
You can assess your own risk of falling by using the NHS falls risk assessment tool.
Most falls don’t result in serious injury, but they can affect your confidence so it’s good to be prepared.
What you can do
You can make some changes to your lifestyle that will help you stay steady on your feet.
If you’re physically active, you’re less likely to fall. Exercise can help to keep muscles strong and improve your balance. Try to do some regular exercise, such as swimming or dancing. It’s important to stay active and keep warm.
If you haven’t exercised for a while or have a medical condition, talk to your GP first. They might be able to give you some strength and balance exercises to do at home or recommend a local exercise class, such as Extend classes .
Some research has shown that the Chinese martial art Tai Chi can improve your balance and reduce the risk of falls. Also, practising techniques for getting up from the floor could be a life-saver if you do fall. Ask your GP or physiotherapist for more information.
Make sure you eat a balanced diet to help keep your bones strong, which should include:
- calcium-rich food, such as cheese and milk
- oily fish, like sardines and tuna, which contain vitamin D.
Some medications may have side effects that can affect your balance. If you’re on a number of different medications you may be more at risk too. Tell your GP if any of your medication is making you feel dizzy or unwell and ask your GP or pharmacist for a review of your medication every year.
Check your eyes and hearing
Make sure you have regular hearing and eye tests. You will qualify for free NHS eye tests at least once every two years if you are over 60 or receiving certain benefits. You may also be eligible for a free eye test at home if you can't get to an optician. RNID has an online hearing test and your GP can also arrange a hearing test.
Look after your feet
Keep your toenails trimmed and visit a chiropodist if you have any foot problems. Talk to your GP to see if you're able to get free NHS foot care services or find a local registered chiropodist or podiatrist on the NHS website.
Many older people fall when rushing to the toilet. If incontinence is a problem for you, speak to your GP. You can also get information and advice from Bladder & Bowel UK.
Make your home safer
Most falls happen in the home or garden but there are preventive measures you can take. Things to think about include:
- lighting – keep your home well-lit and consider getting motion-activated lights
- keep your home clutter free - especially the hall, landing or stairs
- look out for trailing wires
- repair frayed carpet edges and use non-slip mats under rugs and in the bathroom
- mop up any spillages
- get things organised so you don’t need to climb, bend or stretch too much
- wear well-fitted shoes and avoid open-backed slippers or loose-fitting trousers
- never stand on chairs – use a stepladder or get someone to help you
- watch out for pets when you move around.
It’s easy to get used to things and not notice the potential dangers but you may be able to get a home hazard assessment to check for any risks. Ask your GP or local council for information.
Don’t let fear of losing your independence stop you seeking help. There may be some simple aids or home adaptations that could help you avoid falls, for example, grab rails in the bathroom or an extra banister.
Download our falls prevention checklist
Out and about
You also need to take care when you go out:
- give your eyes time to adjust to changing light conditions when you move from inside to outdoors
- watch out for tripping hazards, such as cracked pavements or raised frames in shop doorways
- use a rucksack for shopping.
What to do if you have a fall
It's important to make sure you're not hurt before trying to get up. Here are some simple steps you can follow if you do fall over:
If you're not hurt
- Stay calm and take a few moments to collect yourself
- Double-check if you're hurt anywhere
- Look for something stable to hold on to and use that to help yourself up, if you're not hurt
- Sit for a while and rest.
If you are hurt or can’t get up
- Try to make yourself comfortable
- Keep warm – reach for a blanket or cover yourself with a coat or rug
- Try to keep moving a little if possible
- Make some noise to attract attention
- Try to crawl to a telephone
- If you have a personal alarm, use it! Don’t worry about bothering people.
If you - or someone you are caring for - have a fall and can’t get up, call 999.
Getting help after a fall
Having a fall could be a sign that something isn’t quite right with your health but often it’s something treatable. Talk to your GP and ask them to refer you to a falls service, for example, a Falls Clinic. They can help find out why you fell and to get help, such as physiotherapy. Falls can have a serious impact on your health so don’t ignore them. There’s a lot of support available.
Get a mobile phone if you don’t already have one and consider installing a community alarm system. This is a pendant or wristband you wear, with a button to call for help if you fall.
You can also get telecare technology that sends an alert to a carer or call centre if you get up from a bed or chair and don’t return in a set time.
Find contact details for your local council on gov.uk/find-local-council
Visit the NHS website for more information on falls prevention.