Skip to Content
You are here:

Fall Hazards & Risk Factors for Falls

filter form

Find a Community:

Filter By:
Advanced Search:
Fall Hazards & Risk Factors for Falls
search form

Risk Factors, Hazards & Causes of Falls in the Elderly

April 22, 2016

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans, and one out of three seniors will fall this year. No one wants to become a statistic but falls in the elderly ages 65 and older can result in serious injury or even death.

senior woman in wheelchair smiling

 Risk Factors for Falls in the Elderly

So, why do elderly fall? Falls happen either because of a biological issue within the body (intrinsic risk factor), or because something in the environment caused a trip or fall (extrinsic risk factor). Regardless of the reason, the consequences of falls can be severe, even life-threatening. Understanding the causes of falls is the first step in reducing the risk factors for falls in the elderly.

Intrinsic Risk Factors

  • Age
  • Poor eyesight
  • Previous falls
  • Vertigo, or other balance disorders
  • Poor posture
  • Muscle weakness
  • Chronic conditions or diseases (stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease)
  • Fear of falling

Extrinsic Risk Factors

  • Lack of railings or grab bars
  • Slick surfaces
  • Uneven floors or stairs
  • Lack of adequate lighting
  • Obstacles on the ground
  • Reaction to medication
  • Improper use of canes or walkers

Common Causes of Falls in the Elderly

Falls can happen anytime, anywhere, but most falls in the elderly occur in the course of a senior’s normal daily activities. Seniors living in their own homes may not be as safe as they think. At least one-third of all fall risks involve environmental hazards in the home.

 According to the National Institute on Aging, the most common causes of falls in elderly people are:

  • Loose stairs
  • Slick, slippery or wet surfaces
  • Poor lighting
  • Broken furniture
  • Frayed or loose rugs
  • Lack of stair railings
  • Clutter on the floor
  • Lack of grab bars in the bathroom
  • Outdoor hazards like ice and uneven walkways
  • Hoses or other outdoor trip hazards

Extrinsic Risk Factors

  • Lack of railings or grab bars
  • Slick surfaces
  • Uneven floors or stairs
  • Lack of adequate lighting
  • Obstacles on the ground
  • Reaction to medication
  • Improper use of canes or walkers

Consequences of Falls

Falls are the number one cause of injuries among seniors. In fact, of the more than 250,000 hip fractures reported every year, 95 percent are from falls. The consequences of falls in the elderly span from moderate to serious, and include injuries such as bone fractures, cuts, bruises and even fatal brain damage. 

Any disability caused by a fall can lead to loss of independence and fear. Older adults may be so frightened of falling again that they avoid leaving home.

Reduce Extrinsic Home Hazards to Prevent Falling

When considering the consequences of extrinsic risk factors for falls in the elderly, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A fall risk assessment can help keep seniors healthy and active. To minimize extrinsic home hazards for elderly family members, take a good look around all living spaces. Chances are, you’ll find several issues, some quite simple to fix. Take the time to make the necessary changes. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that the home is as safe as it can be. 

Here’s a room-by-room checklist to get you started:

Living Room

  • Create wide, clear paths to easily travel from doorways to chairs without obstruction. Make sure any pathways are wide enough to accommodate walkers or canes.
  • Remove or repair any loose or broken furniture.
  • Clear clutter from tabletops and floor.
  • Keep pathways clear of electrical cords, wires and other clutter.
  • Secure cords to a wall or add additional electrical outlets.
  • Keep a cordless phone near the floor. In the event of a fall, seniors can easily call for help
  • Plug in a night light on a timer to improve visibility.


  • Remove throw rugs and replace with slip-resistant mats.
  • Keep commonly used items on a cabinet or table that’s about waist high, so seniors don’t need to reach or climb.
  • Keep floors free of clutter, dirt and grease.
  • Clean spills immediately.
  • Plug in a night light on a timer to improve visibility.


  • Keep lamps with a simple switch on both sides of the bed for easy access.
  • Secure all cords to the wall or add extra outlets.
  • Keep a phone close to the bed.
  • Store commonly used clothing or personal items at waist level for easy access.
  • Add a portable commode chair near the bed to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.
  • Keep an extra pair of eyeglasses close to the bed.
  • Plug in a night light on a timer to improve visibility.


  • Make sure the tub or shower has a secure rubber mat or non-slip strips.
  • Install grab bars inside the tub or shower, on the wall next to the tub or shower and next to the toilet.
  • Repair any leaks immediately.
  • Mop up any puddles on the floor as soon as possible.
  • Attach a shower caddy on the wall to keep soap, shampoo and other items close at hand.
  • Add a shower seat to protect seniors who may not be able to stand for long periods of time.
  • Install a raised toilet seat to help seniors sit and stand more safely.
  • Plug in a night light on a timer to improve visibility.


  • Remove throw rugs and frayed carpets.
  • Repair uneven flooring or loose floorboards.
  • Secure all carpets.


  • Repair loose or broken steps.
  • Add a railing to both sides of the staircase.
  • Make sure stairways have adequate lighting, with a switch at both the bottom and the top.
  • Replace any loose carpet or stair treads.


  • Make sure all outdoor areas – especially around steps or ramps – have adequate lighting.
  • Remove any clutter from pathways.
  • Repair any uneven sidewalks, stairs or walkways.
  • Install hand rails on both sides of steps.

Reduce Intrinsic Risk Factors to Prevent Falling

Just because you believe the major intrinsic risk factor for elderly falls is “age” doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. In addition to reducing home hazards for the elderly, the most effective fall prevention programs focus on helping seniors stay fit and safe while also working on their strength and balance. A physical or occupational therapist can work with the senior to identify their fall risk factors and make recommendations for overcoming them. 

Here are some other ways for seniors to lessen intrinsic risk factors:
  • Wear properly fitted shoes with slip-resistant soles.
  • Hem any long garments to prevent dragging around the ankles or feet.
  • Schedule yearly hearing and vision checkups with specialists.

In addition, we suggest a wearable senior alert device. In the event of a fall, seniors can get immediate help at the press of a button.

Elmcroft Cares About Fall Prevention

At Elmcroft, we’re committed to assuring safe mobility for all the residents in our communities as they age. We encourage both seniors and their caregivers to work together to learn, spot and correct potential risk factors for falls. We also offer the Walking Tall Fall Prevention program in our communities. If determined to be a good fit for a resident, Elmcroft staff will work together to increase seniors’ fall prevention knowledge, assess their living environment for fall risks and introduce a program designed to reduce falls and improve health and well-being.

Free Senior Living Options eBook

As you begin your search, use this easy to understand guide to help you better understand your options.

search form
Back to top