The Most Common Reason That Older Adults Fall Down

Senior falls down
Photo by Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

As we age, our sense of balance sometimes can betray us. The best way to avoid potentially devastating falls is to prioritize staying balanced and to avoid tasks that steal our focus from where it needs to be.

In fact, “dual-tasking” — standing or walking while also performing a separate mental or physical task — is the No. 1 source of falls for older adults, according to Brad Manor, an associate scientist at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Writing in the Harvard Health Blog, Manor says older adults are much more vulnerable to falls if they are moving when they try to perform a separate cognitive or motor task.

Examples might include reading while walking, or talking and carrying a cup of coffee as you stroll.

Manor says simply standing upright or walking down a well-lit hallway are surprisingly complex physical tasks. Such activities involve continuously stabilizing our body’s center of mass (which is just behind the sternum, or breastbone) over the relatively small base of support that we create by how we position our feet on the ground.

Manor writes:

“This control requires quick reflexes, as well as strong muscles of the trunk, hips, legs, ankles, and toes. However, to avoid falling we also need to pay attention to our body and environment, predict and perceive unsafe movements of our body, and adjust accordingly.”

As we grow older, simple tasks such as standing and walking require greater levels of cognitive effort as our senses and muscle strength begin to fade. As we spend more cognitive effort on those tasks, it steals away resources from controlling our body’s center of mass over our feet. Falls are often the result.

How to prevent falls

To prevent falling, Manor suggests increasing awareness of your surroundings. Minimize distractions when in a crowded room, walking on uneven sidewalks, or hurrying to get somewhere, he says. Also, minimize or avoid talking while moving.

Keeping your mind sharp can help. Manor writes that older adults with cognitive impairment are more than twice as likely to fall as their peers who do not have such cognitive issues. For help with that, check out “5 Secrets to Keeping Your Brain Sharp as You Age.”

Engaging in mind-body exercises such as tai chi, yoga or dance can help. These activities all help to improve your balance.

Finally, Manor emphasizes that falls are rarely the result of one factor. Poor muscle strength, fatigue and failing vision can all contribute to falls. So, the best way to prevent falls is to combine multiple preventive measures.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them
2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them

If you commit either of these credit card sins, you are likely losing money every time you use a card. Here’s how to easily right this wrong.

These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over
These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over

Buy reusable versions of these household items, and you won’t have to spend another dime on them for years.

9 Ways to Get Affordable Vet Care
9 Ways to Get Affordable Vet Care

Medical care for your furry friends can be expensive. Here are some tips to get affordable vet care.

13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon
13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon

Every household should have these products on hand. Buying them in bulk on Amazon saves you cash.

6 Groups Who Cannot Rely on Social Security Benefits
6 Groups Who Cannot Rely on Social Security Benefits

If you fall into one of these groups, don’t assume that you will receive benefits.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

This iconic dinnerware is prized for everyday use as well as reselling for profit.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

9 of the Best Things to Do When You Retire
9 of the Best Things to Do When You Retire

You’ve waited all your life for this moment. Make the most of your retirement.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken
Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken

Something foul may lurk in those delicious, ready-to-eat birds.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon
Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon

Just because you can purchase something on Amazon doesn’t mean that you should.

7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make
7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make

Sometimes a big-ticket purchase is nothing more than a big waste of money.

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at Target
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at Target

No store can specialize in everything. For some purchases, it’s smart to shop elsewhere.

8 Things You Should Be Buying at Thrift Stores
8 Things You Should Be Buying at Thrift Stores

For one expert, these secondhand bargains stand out from the rest.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees
20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees

Retirees can dial back the intensity of work while continuing to bring in a paycheck.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report
8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report

Federal law lets these entities peek at your credit — regardless of whether you’re borrowing money.

11 Foods That Can Keep for Years
11 Foods That Can Keep for Years

These are some of the longest-lasting groceries you can buy.

Selling Your Stuff? Don’t Fall for These 5 Negotiating Tricks
Selling Your Stuff? Don’t Fall for These 5 Negotiating Tricks

Don’t let buyers fleece you — whether you’re selling via a yard sale or Facebook Marketplace.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.