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3 Different Types of Elderly Falls Explained

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Being knowledgeable of the three different types of falls is critical in taking the next steps to avoid future incidents. You can start with evaluating the older adult’s fall risk based upon their physical ability, mental status, and past medical history. Understanding fall risks and fall types can equip older adults and their caregivers to take steps to prevent them. 

The three types of falls are anticipated, unanticipated, and accidental. Based on the type of fall your loved one has experienced, you can plan your steps to mitigate future falls.

To help the reader understand fall types and risks, we provide examples and recommendations.

The three types of falls explained

There are three types of falls among the elderly are:

  1. Anticipated falls that occur in adults who have risk factors for falls that can be identified in advance
  2. Unanticipated falls which occur in adults with a low fall risk, but unexpected events such as a seizure or stroke could not be anticipated; and
  3. Accidental falls that occur in low-risk patients due to an environmental hazard.

How to determine the severity of fall-risk

Here are some questions you might ask yourself to establish an individual's fall risk level. This checklist might also assist you in preparing for your appointment with your doctor.

  • Is there a history of falling (recent or in the past)?
  • Does the adult have 2 or more medical conditions?
  • Does the adult use an assistive device to move around?
  • Crutches
  • Canes
  • Walker
  • Grab bars
  • Does the adult show signs of poor walking gait?
  • Are there signs of poor mental status?
  • Forgets
  • Overestimates own ability

If you replied "yes" to some of these questions, you may be at a high risk of falling and should consult your doctor. People who have fallen frequently cite causes for their fall. "I didn't notice the water on the floor, so I slid," "I'll make sure it doesn't happen again," or "I just lost my balance," for example. When answering these questions, remember to pause and ask yourself, "Was this truly an unintentional fall?"

Anticipated falls and how to prevent them

People with impaired gait or mobility are at a risk for falls. These individuals usually use “assistive devices” which include canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. Should this individual experience a fall, it would be considered an ‘anticipated fall’ because of their existing fall risk.

Falls should also be anticipated from individuals with certain medical diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, strokes, diabetes, and dementia. These conditions impair a person's walking stride and balance.

With high fall risk individuals, take steps to prevent them. For example, make sure their assistive devices are in good working condition. Help the older adult to properly and consistently use them. For some older adults, even with assistive devices, may need help from a caregiver from a family or an aide that provides personal assistance.

Unanticipated falls and how to prevent them

Some medical issues put a person in danger of falling unexpectedly. These falls are referred to as "unanticipated falls." Seizures, strokes, and patients who blackout owing to high blood pressure are just a few examples. If you're worried about unintentional falls, consult a doctor. A doctor may complete extensive fall risk factor assessments that include mobility issues, medications, mental health, and continence needs.

Accidental falls and how to prevent them

Accidental falls occur in the presence of environmental hazards such as obstacles, lighting, and poor ergonomic features in the living space. Improving environmental safety will help reduce fall risk among these older adults. 

  • Keep non-slip, comfortable, well-fitting footwear on the patient
  • Keep floor surfaces clean and dry. Clean up all spills promptly
  • Have sturdy handrails in bathrooms, rooms, and hallways
  • Keep wheelchair wheel locks in "locked" position when stationary
  • Use night lights or supplemental lighting
  • Keep living areas clutter-free as they become trip hazards