The Physical and Psychological Consequences Of Falls In The Elderly

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional

The consequences of falls in the elderly can be either physical or psychological - or both. Learn which consequences are most serious for seniors and what you should look for after a fall.

consequences of a fall in the elderly
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It’s an unfortunate fact, but every year a many as 3 million older people end up getting treated in emergency departments due to the consequences of fall injuries [1]. Elderly people are at a heightened risk for suffering a fall for various reasons.

Some of the reasons can be a direct result of lower extremity weakness, osteoporosis, and even from vision or balance problems. Regardless of the reason for the fall, the consequences can be dire.

By the end of this article, you will know what some of the physical and psychological effects can be after experiencing a fall.

Physical Effects on an Elderly Person After a Fall

The first consequence seniors tend to worry about after falling are physical damage to the body.

1. Head Trauma

One of the worst consequences would be head trauma. Unfortunately, any fall can result in trauma to the head if an impact is made. Head injuries can be serious injuries whether you are young or old.

However, for those taking various medications like blood thinners, it can result in internal bleeding which can become deadly. Therefore, head trauma can be a major problem and a dire consequence of falling as a senior.

While not every fall is going to result in a minor or major injury, as many as 1 in 5 falls can cause serious injury including a head injury [1].

2. Broken Bones

When you fall, you can reach out to brace yourself for impact. In these situations, a broken or fractured wrist is likely.

Many people suffer broken or fractures in their wrists or hands because of this instinctive reaction. The risk factor associated with breaking a bone is heightened for older people with more brittle bones due to a lack of vitamin D and vitamin C absorption.

3. Hip Fracture

This is also a form of a broken bone, but it’s worth noting individually due to how common it is.

Hip fractures are one of the most common and most severe injuries you can get when you are older. A hip fracture is an injury that is rarely caused by something other than falling. Over 95% of hip fractures sustained by older people are caused by falling [1]. More so, every single year at least 300,000 older people end up getting hospitalized because of a hip fracture [1].

Therefore, you are very likely to experience a hip fracture if you sustain a fall as an elderly person. A hip fracture can be a severe injury not only because it is difficult to heal, but also because it can result in a direct decrease in mobility among those who get it.

4. Joint Dislocation

This is another consequence that could present itself if you suffer from a fall. This is not only a painful consequence, but it can be one that directly and negatively impacts your mobility. This dislocation can be on the lower or upper half of your body.

depressed senior man after a fall
The psychological effects of a fall on seniors can be just as serious as physical injuries.

Psychological Effects on an Elderly Person After a Fall

Believe it or not, but the consequences of experiencing a fall can be much more than limited to your physical well-being. It can negatively affect your state of mind.

1. Anxiety

A lot of people who suffer from a fall end up experiencing severe bouts of anxiety due to having a fear of falling [2]. This becomes a major problem among older adults because it forces them to lead a much less active life.

This can further compound their anxiety and make it much less likely to be able to control it with physical exercise. Increased anxiety can also contribute to added stress and it can cause their emotional well-being to be compromised.

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2. Depression

It can spiral until they experience depression. Unfortunately, older people do not synthesis vitamin D as well as young people. It has been shown that a lack of vitamin D can result in depression as seen by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which can crop up during the winter months.

If an older person is not getting outdoors as often because of their fear of falling, it can contribute to the worsening of this condition. Depression can manifest in those who are not getting enough physical activity in their daily lives.

This can further exacerbate the issue and cause their emotional state of mind to worsen.

3. Loss of Independence From Postfall Syndrome

A lot of seniors experience what is known medically as “postfall syndrome .”[3] This is a syndrome that can keep one from being able to sustain their independence because of having a fear of falling.

What Are The Most Serious Consequences of Falls in the Elderly?

The most serious consequence of falling is brain trauma because the symptoms may not manifest for days or even weeks. Another more serious consequence of a fall is a hip fracture which also one of the most common. ones too.

Brain Trauma

This is easily one of the most serious physical consequences of a fall not only to older adults but also to younger people. Any hit to the head can be dangerous and it can have long-lasting effects. Learn the symptoms of head trauma so that you know what to watch out for.

This is why it is so important to seek medical attention if you experience a blow to the head from a fall. This is especially true if you are on blood-thinning medication for clotting or other issues. You could experience internal bleeding which can be deadly.

Hip Fractures

This is perhaps one of the main injuries associated with falling as a senior. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most consequential.

The consequences of a hip fracture can be devastating for a senior. After all, it can be very painful and it can result in a severe loss of mobility. This can contribute to worsening the physical condition of an elderly person and even their mental state.

senior lady on floor after falling
Seniors should inform their family after any fall and should always seek medical attention immediately – even if everything seems ok.

Why Do Some Elderly Die After Falling?

Some elderly people die after a fall because they do not tell their doctors. A lot of the deaths associated with falling among older adults can be prevented with proper communication.

While some deaths are not preventable, there are cases in which it could have been prevented which makes communication vital. As many as 7 fall deaths every hour is the predicted rate by 2030 if the rates continue to increase as they have been [1].

What Should You Look For After an Elderly Person Falls?

1. Blood Pressure

You want to have the blood pressure of an elderly person checked if they have fallen or they fall frequently. They may experience sudden drops that make them lose balance.

2. Balance

You want to get the balance checked if an elderly person falls.

3. Vitamin D Levels

If an older person suffers from a fall, it’s ideal to check for vitamin D levels. Studies have shown that increased intake of vitamin D can help to prevent falls among older people [4].

4. Signs Of Head Injury

Any head injury could prove to be fatal. The head should be checked after experiencing a fall. If the person is dizzy or loses consciousness, emergency medical attention is recommended.

5. Fractures or Breaks

Any signs of swelling should be checked on by medical professionals. If you notice an elderly person experiences a fall, always look for prolonged swelling as it is a clear-cut indication they may have experienced a fracture or break.

Summary and Final Recommendations

As you can tell, there are plenty of different consequences of a fall that you should be aware of. Falling is a serious issue for older people. It is the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries [1]. There continues to be a rise in deaths among older people who fall.

RELATED: Lifting Devices to Help Elderly Off the Floor

By understanding the common causes of falls and consequences of falling as a senior, you should be able to prevent them from becoming a statistic as best possible.


Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional

Scott Grant has spent more than 20 years serving seniors and the elderly in the home medical equipment industry. He has worked as a manufacturer's rep for the top medical equipment companies and a custom wheelchair specialist at a durable medical equipment (DME) provider in WV. He is father to 4 beautiful daughters and has three terrific grandkids. When not promoting better living for older adults, he enjoys outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking and early morning runs.

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