Tripping and falling can be dangerous for a person of any age. It’s often more serious for an older adult because frailty caused by age can present a myriad of unexpected complications, even in an otherwise ‘well’ elder. But what if there is more to the fall?

Sometimes a fall is just an accident. However, there are times – especially for older adults – when it’s a sign that something else is wrong. It can be a sign of an undetected illness, or it might be a result of a side effect from a medication. Even if a fall requires medical attention, sometimes getting to the underlying reason of the fall takes a back seat to addressing any injury that occurred from the fall.

Look Past the Fall

Even if you’re confident an older adult may only have just tripped or stumbled, it’s important to look a bit deeper to be sure. Most medical professionals will check for an underlying new illness if they hear that an older adult has experienced generalized weakness or was feeling unwell before the fall, because many serious medical conditions can cause unsteadiness or weakness, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Heart problems
  • Strokes
  • Anemia
  • Urinary tract infection

Medical professionals need your input about falls and why they may have happened. Be sure to discuss your observations with the doctor if you’ve noticed a change in an older adult’s behavior, or if they have complained about not feeling well or not feeling like themselves.

Time for a Blood Pressure Check

Light-headedness, dizziness, or even fainting are a common cause for falls in older adults. This can be a sign of blood pressure issues. This may be the cause if they already take blood pressure medication. If it’s not working as planned, it can cause an older adult to experience a drop in blood pressure when they stand up or change position or if they are not drinking enough liquid while taking medication.

The doctor may elect to measure blood pressure and pulse from lying to sitting, and again while they are standing to detect ‘positional’ blood pressure concerns.

Review Medications

Many seniors take medications that increase the risk of falls. It may be time to review the use of these medications to see if they can be modified or switched. Common sedatives and sleeping medications, as well as antianxiety and dementia drugs can make older adults unsteady on their feet.

Blood pressure medications including diuretics (fluid pills), as already mentioned should definitely be reviewed. Be sure that the doctor also reviews all anticholinergic medications like medications for Parkinson’s disease and others. Even over-the-counter medications for allergies or for constipation and other common situations can cause some problems. They’re commonly prescribed and can impact both balance, cognition and awareness.

Overlooked Causes

Sometimes it’s not a hidden cause. An older adult may have tripped because they’re having difficulty with their balance, and it’s time to address the issue. Or, it might be as simple as seeing a podiatrist because of foot pain or getting more supportive shoes. Other times rushing to get to the bathroom or answer the phone or door can cause a senior to stumble.

Environmental barriers are often a cause of falls and these include but are not limited to unclear walking paths, lack of supportive rails, area rugs, electrical cords hanging in the way, clutter and poor lighting. In many cases these are easy to fix but often come with some resistance by the senior to change their environment as it has been that way for some time. Make the most critical changes first and then slowly improve upon the rest.

Sometimes a fall is just a fall. It’s embarrassing, but it might be a situation to escalate if you suspect there’s more to the incident than a misstep.