How To Tell if Your Loved One is at Risk of Falling

If you have a loved one in your care, you may be wondering how much risk they have of falling down (falls are one of the leading causes of injury among adults 65 and older).

There are several ways you can tell if your loved one is at risk of falling. We listed the most common warning signs below (including the non-visual ones), and will also provide some crucial fall prevention tips and resources made specially for caregivers and loved ones. 

Signs that Your Loved One May Be At Risk of Falling

You want to protect your loved one’s health and independence. How do you know whether or not they are at risk of falling down?

Look for these warning signs:

Social Decline and Increased Isolation 

Sign: Physical signs that your loved ones are at risk of falling may be obvious, however emotional signs are not.  They are often expressed with passive-aggressive behavior such as declining social activity,  increased isolation and a growing sedentary lifestyle.  They can often get frustrated or angry if pushed or encouraged to be more social and active.  

What this could mean: When people are afraid of falling, they are often ashamed and embarrassed.  This is not easy to talk about with others, including healthcare professionals, and they feel alone and scared.  

Fear of Falling

Sign: Your loved one has mentioned that they’re afraid of falling down, or you’ve noticed that they’re not walking as often or are hesitant about going outdoors.

What this could mean: When people are afraid of falling, they might become fearful of walking around outdoors or even in their home. This often causes people to spend too much time sitting down or lying in bed, which weakens their leg muscles and joints. People are at a higher risk of falling when they have weakened leg and body strength.

Home Recovery 

Sign: Your loved one is recovering from injury, surgery or illness.

What this could mean: Most recovery, even after major surgery, happens at home.  While this is where most people prefer to recover vs. being in a hospital, it does pose many fall risks, such as with all the bathroom functions, resting and getting in and out of bed, getting around the house and in and out of the car. 

Chronic Illness

Sign: Your loved one is dealing with a chronic health condition.

What this could mean: Chronic illnesses take a toll on the body and reduce a person’s strength and energy, which can put someone at a higher risk of falling.

Poor Sleep

Sign: Your loved one doesn’t get a healthy amount of sleep each night. Perhaps they’re dealing with sleep apnea, insomnia, an uncomfortable bed or sleeping environment, or chronic pain that makes it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.

What this could mean: Poor sleep will zap a person’s energy and alertness, which puts them at a higher risk of falling.

Declining Vision

Sign: Your loved one has declining eyesight, and they can no longer see as clearly as they used to.

What this could mean: When someone has reduced eyesight, they might not be able to spot trip hazards as easily.

Declining Hearing

Sign: Your loved one has difficulty hearing or uses a hearing aid.

What this could mean: Research has found that older adults with mild hearing loss have more than double the risk of falling down. It’s still unclear why there’s a correlation between hearing loss and falling down, but the study found that hearing aids are effective in reducing falls.

Cognitive Decline

Sign: Your loved one has difficulty with memory or mental clarity, or they’ve been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

What this could mean: Research has found that people dealing with cognitive dysfunction are at a higher risk of falling down; in fact, people with dementia are 8 times more likely to experience falls. Cognitive decline usually causes poor balance and mobility, which can lead to falls.

Urinary Incontinence

Sign: Your loved one is dealing with bladder control issues or needs to use the bathroom with unusual frequency.

What this could mean: When someone is dealing with urinary incontinence, they may need to get up frequently in the middle of the night to use the bathroom—which puts them at a higher risk of falling because the home is dark, or they’re sleepy and don’t have the alertness to notice and avoid fall hazards.

They also might be reluctant to spend time outside of the home because they’re afraid of experiencing a bladder control incident. This might cause the person to spend too much time at home; as we mentioned earlier, this leads to weakened leg strength and greater fall risk.

New Medications

Sign: Your loved one has just started taking a new prescription or over-the-counter medication.

What this could mean: New medication may cause unexpected side effects, such as drowsiness, that puts them at higher risk of falling down.

Poor or Uneven Balance – Furniture and Wall “Walking”

Sign: Your loved one isn’t able to keep good balance when they’re walking, standing, bending down, or sitting down / sitting up.  You may notice them holding onto furniture such as a table or chair, using the arm of the couch to get up, or even using the walls to keep their balance and take steps.  

What this could mean: As you might expect, someone dealing with poor balance is more likely to lose their balance and fall, even when they’re doing fairly simple tasks.

Hot, Wet, or Icy Weather

Sign: Your loved one is living somewhere with seasonal or year-round extreme weather, such as heat waves, storms, or snowy conditions.

What this could mean: Challenging weather conditions can create all sorts of fall hazards.

  • Hot weather may put someone at risk of dehydration, which can cause them to suddenly lose strength, feel dizzy, or pass out
  • Wet weather can create flooding, pooling, and slippery surfaces that cause people to slip and fall
  • Icy or snowy weather can also create slippery surfaces

How To Reduce Fall Risk – Come at it with Love and Empowerment 

If you’ve noticed that your loved one shows one or more of the warning signs listed above, then you’ll want to take action to keep your loved one safe and minimize their risk of falling.  We understand this can be challenging because of the negative emotions that can take control, such as fear, denial and shame.  A meaningful way to come at these emotions is with love and empowerment. 

Check out our NOVA Love Notes with tips on caregiving support and empowerment.

The key is to BE PROACTIVE in preventing falls.  Studies show that once a person falls, they are much more likely to fall again.  Taking a proactive approach supports one’s dignity and empowerment.  Here is a dialog you can try: “Because I care about you and your independence, let’s be proactive in preventing falls. Here is a Home Safety Toolbox we can look over together.” 

We created a Home Safety Toolbox just for caregivers and loved ones like you. The toolbox will give you dozens of actionable tips to prevent falls, both indoors and outside of the home.  It is designed to be interactive, approachable, engaging and actionable. 

You can also use our NOVA dealer locator to find a local pharmacy or medical supply store in our NOVA Network that can provide you with fall prevention products, information and solutions to keep your loved ones safe and healthy. 

Falls are an epidemic we can cure!  

Read our blogs for more information on preventing falls:

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