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Information for Health and Community Workers

Risk factors and prevention strategies for falls 

What can cause a fall? 

A fall can occur due to personal (intrinsic), environmental (extrinsic), or behavioural risk factors. Whilst a single risk factor can cause a fall, falls are more likely to be caused by multiple risk factors, including: 

  • A previous fall  
  • Health conditions 
  • Loss of balance 
  • Poor strength 
  • Medication intake  
  • Poor diet  
  • Impaired cognition 
  • Poor or loss of vision 
  • Foot pain or unsafe shoes  
  • Hazards around the home 
  • Changes in walking 

For example, if an older adult is moving from their bed to the bathroom in the evening, a fall may occur because they: have poor eyesight (personal risk factor);  tripped on a rug (environmental risk factor); or were moving in a hurry to move from their bedroom to the toilet (behavioural risk factor).

What works to prevent falls? 

Due to the positive benefits of exercise on maintaining muscle and strength, increasing endurance and improving gait, balance and mood, moving your body is one of the best ways to prevent falls.  

In particular, exercise programs that involve more than three hours of exercise per week, include a high challenge to balance (including strength, flexibility, and endurance), use the majority of muscle groups and incorporate progressive weight training, have proven to reduce falls risk among older adults.

Maintaining an individual’s overall health and wellbeing is essential for healthy ageing, and a key component of a multifactorial falls prevention strategy. Alongside the impact of existing co-morbidities, medication intake, diet and cognitive ability can influence falls risk. 

An ageing body or illness may result in the need to consume more medications, however, due to the impact of medicines on an individual’s falls risk, it is vital that all prescriptions are individualised and frequently reviewed.  

Many factors can contribute to older adults not consuming a balanced diet. It’s essential that older adults are supported to consume an energy-dense and nutritionally adequate diet to maintain their strength and independence and reduce their risk of falling. 

An individual’s cognitive ability to coordinate their motor and sensory systems is vital to responding to environmental stimuli, planning movements, maintaining alertness, dual-task and controlling body movements.  

In addition to behavioural changes, it is important that older adults are supported to make changes to their physical environment to minimise the likelihood of harm. Key prevention strategies relate to: removing environmental hazards in and around the home, ensuring individuals have stable contact with the ground by wearing safe footwear and ensuring optimal visual function by receiving regular eye examinations.  

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Stay On Your Feet® is funded by the Western Australian Department of Health.