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What causes falls?

The natural ageing process often places older adults at an increased risk of having a fall. In Australia, injuries that are caused by falls are the most common cause of death in people over the age of 75. There are three main reasons why older people are more likely to have a fall. These are:

  • chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, dementia and low blood pressure (hypotension), which can cause dizziness
  • impairments, such as poor vision or muscle weakness
  • illnesses that can affect balance, such as labyrinthitis (inflammation of the delicate structure deep inside the ear known as the 'labyrinth').

Chronic health conditions, such as those listed above, can sometimes cause a loss of balance, a brief loss of consciousness or fainting, or a sudden feeling of dizziness, all of which could all contribute to a fall. Visual impairment or muscle weakness may also make it more difficult for an older person to prevent a fall.

Among older adults, the most common reasons for accidentally falling or slipping include:

  • wet or recently polished floors, such as in a bathroom
  • dim light
  • rugs or carpets that are not properly secured
  • reaching for storage areas, such as cupboards
  • stairs.

Another common cause of falls, particularly among older men, is falling from a ladder while carrying out home maintenance work.

In older women, falls can be particularly troublesome because osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones) is a widespread problem which increases the chance of fractures following a fall.

Sources: myagedcare (Help with falls prevention), NHS Choices, UK (Falls)

Last reviewed: September 2015

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