A Surprising Cause of Falls in Seniors

Researchers have found a surprising reason behind many senior falls. A study conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital estimates that between 20 and 45 percent of older adults that visit the emergency room because of a fall didn’t fall because of commonly assumed reasons, such as they tripped on something or weren’t wearing their glasses. Rather, the reality is that infections are to blame for many serious falls.

Those findings are surprising because, in most instances, there was little to no sign of an infection in the patient who fell. For example, four out of five patients who fell because of an underlying infection don’t have a fever, per the study.

Three types of infections, in particular, are to blame for falls:

  1. Urinary tract infections. UTIs can be caused by insufficient fluid intake, an infection from a catheter, or not changing absorbent undergarments, such as adult briefs, often enough.
  1. Bloodstream infections. This type of infection often begins as a UTI. Scientists recommend correcting the issues that lead to UTIs to also prevent bloodstream infections.
  1. Respiratory infections. There are many types of respiratory infections that can lead to falling, including pneumonia, influenza, and a non-influenza respiratory infection. The Mayo Clinic advises people over the age of 65 to get the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine to prevent or lessen the severity of pneumonia. The flu shot is also recommended.

Related: Do You Know About These 10 Common Health Issues for Seniors?


The Connection Between Infections and Falls

An infection can be the culprit for a fall because it can cause low blood pressure, leading to dizziness and light-headedness. The stress that an infection places on the body can also make dementia symptoms temporarily worse in those with a cognitive condition.

It can be tough to tell if a person has an infection because as mentioned above, it’s not unusual for there to be no symptoms, such as fever, rapid breathing or a rapid heart rate. Also, the senior may not have felt any of the pain that younger people experience when they have an infection like a UTI because of normal changes that happen to the immune system with age.

However, you can keep an eye out for early warning signs such as unusual lethargy or weakness. Any sudden changes in behavior or cognition can be an indication of an infection. For example, your loved one might experience urinary incontinence or appear more confused than she was just the day before. That could very well be a warning sign that an undetected infection is developing in her body. While some infections may be very common, they can develop into serious and potentially life-threatening conditions if they’re left untreated.

Similarly, knowing that an infection could be behind a fall means that your loved one can get treated for the genuine cause of their fall. As a side note, while our chance of falling goes up with age, the researchers behind this study pointed out that it’s not only seniors who need to be concerned, people under the age of 65 also experience serious falls because of the effects of an infection.

Of course, there are many other potential causes of falls. Here are some you should know about:

  • Lack of lower body strength
  • Not enough vitamin D
  • Certain medications that affect balance, such as sedatives
  • Vision problems
  • Loose-fitting footwear, like some types of slippers
  • Tripping hazards

See our blog post, Preventing Falls: It Starts at Home, for a more in-depth look at the causes and prevention of falls.


The bottom line is that caregivers should try not to rush to judgment when their loved one experiences a fall. It could be an infection that has tripped them up, not carelessness or a misplaced throw rug.


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