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12 symptoms to look for after an elderly person falls

As we get older, we become more prone to the risk of falls possibly due to increased frailty, medication or other age related conditions. Elderly people may experience a loss of balance or dizziness that can result in slips or falls.

Many falls are minor and don’t result in injury; however, there’s always a risk that a fall can have more serious consequences. Some may result in broken bones, head injuries or fractures. Therefore, it’s important to understand the symptoms to look for after a fall to ensure your loved one is safe.

If you’re concerned about an elderly person falling, you can read our guide to falls prevention for elderly people. You may also find they’ll benefit from the support of a Home Care Assistant. A Home Carer can provide emotional support, as well as help with tidying and decluttering the home to reduce hazards that could cause a fall. They can also provide reminders to ensure your elderly loved one takes prescribed medications on time.

If your loved one has recently had a fall and you’re concerned about their wellbeing, our Convalescent Care service can help. A trained Care Assistant will visit your loved one at home to provide assistance after an injury. They provide valuable support during recovery and are professionally trained to monitor your loved one and notice changes in their health or wellbeing.

To learn more about our services and how we can help, find your local Alina Homecare Team.

Female Home Care client

What are the causes of falls in the elderly?

Anyone can have a fall, but falls in older adults are more common. There are a few reasons for this:

Around 30% of people over 65 and over half of people over 80 will have at least one fall a year.1 An increased risk of falls occur in older individuals due to the natural ageing process. Ageing can result in muscle weakness and balance problems, vision loss, long term health conditions, or low blood pressure which can lead to dizziness.

Another consequence of ageing is the potential onset of osteoporosis. This is a health condition that weakens bones, causing them to become fragile and more likely to break. Fragility as a result of osteoporosis can lead to an increased risk of elderly falls which could subsequently result in broken bones.

Over three million people in the UK have osteoporosis and it’s more commonly developed in older women than men.2 This is because of the female anatomy – ovaries produce oestrogen which helps protect bones. Following menopause, women lose bone density due to hormonal changes and the reduced production of oestrogen.3

Deficiencies such as having low levels of vitamin D in the body can also increase the chance of falls. This is because vitamin D deficiencies cause a drop in bone mineral density and therefore bone strength, increasing instability and increasing the risk of a fall.

Falls can also be a consequence of various external risk factors, but most commonly arise from the following:

  • Clutter in the home causing a trip hazard; this can include loose cables or wires, or rugs and carpets that are upturned and not properly secured
  • A poorly lit room can result in dangerous surroundings for elderly people due to low visibility; this is because potential hazards may not be seen until it’s too late to avoid a fall
  • Uneven surfaces and changes in floor levels, such as stairs or slopes, can be more difficult to manage for an elderly person who’s unsteady on their feet
  • Slippery surfaces are potential risks, especially in areas like the kitchen and bathroom where water can be easily spilt onto floors
  • Some elderly people find that standing up quickly or getting out of a hot bath or shower can result in a bout of dizziness which may lead to a fall

How to prevent falls in older adults?

Slips and falls in the elderly are often preventable, yet research suggests that 10% of falls in people aged 75-79 result in a hospital visit. This doubles to 20% for people aged 80 and over.4 Therefore, it’s important to try reducing the risk of falls to maintain health, confidence and independence in older people.

If your elderly loved one has had a fall that resulted in hospitalisation, they could benefit from our After Hospital Care. Being discharged from hospital where they were receiving round the clock support and readjusting to living independently at home can be unnerving. Our Home Carers can help with the transition and support your loved one to regain their confidence.

Some simple measures that you can implement for preventing falls in older people at home are:

  • Using non-slip bath or shower mats
  • Mopping up spills immediately to prevent slippery floors
  • Ensuring rooms and staircases are well lit
  • Removing clutter and potential trip hazards
  • Helping to lift or move items that are heavy or difficult to reach
  • Implementing walking aids such as walking sticks, rollators or Zimmer frames

Whilst they cannot aid in preventing falls in older people, there are ways of monitoring elderly parents remotely to ensure they’re safe and for peace of mind.

A personal alarm for the elderly can provide added reassurance should a fall occur. These are devices that can be worn around the neck or wrist and, when activated, will alert emergency services. Grab bars or pull cords can also be installed in bathrooms where falls are more likely to happen due to slippery surfaces.

How can you help someone who’s had a fall?

If you’re present when an elderly loved one has a fall, you should both stay calm and avoid panicking. You will need to determine the cause and whether there are any serious injuries from a fall.

After a fall, it’s important to wait until the shock of the fall has subsided before you try to move your loved one. Check your surroundings to ensure it’s safe for you to help them without causing injury to yourself. Only move them if you’re confident it’s safe to do so without making the situation or injuries worse. Moving them too soon could exacerbate injuries which may extend recovery time and lead to more serious consequences. It’s always best to first consult medical professionals, such as calling the emergency services.

If your loved one hit their head or lost consciousness when they fell, they may have sustained a head injury. In this case, you should call an ambulance immediately and avoid moving them. This is also relevant if you’re concerned about a potential sprain, fracture or broken bone. It’s advisable to leave them where they fell and wait for medical professionals to arrive.

In the event of an elderly person falling and an ambulance being called, make sure they’re as comfortable as possible whilst waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Cover them with blankets to keep them warm and dry and make sure they drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, if it’s safe to do so.

In the aftermath of a fall, you may find they lack confidence and become withdrawn; this may be because they feel as though they’ve lost their independence. If they’re able, encourage them to get back to daily routines and activities as soon as possible.

Symptoms to look for after a fall

Symptoms to look for after a fall

While an elderly person may not initially appear to be injured after a fall, it’s important to closely monitor them afterwards for signs of serious concerns. Sometimes symptoms are delayed and will present themselves gradually over time, so it’s valuable to be aware of different symptoms to look for after a fall.

Some immediate symptoms to look for after a fall are:

  • Confusion or restlessness
  • Disorientation or inability to remember things
  • Drowsiness or excessive sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slurred speech
  • Unusual lack of coordination
  • Vomiting or nausea

Following a fall, temporary pain may occur immediately. This pain may be short term or it could be more serious and require long term treatment. Read on to learn more about symptoms to look for after a fall:

1. Broken bones

Bones weaken as we age, which means elderly people are more susceptible to broken bones after a fall. Broken bones in the arms or legs are easier to notice than internal breakages such as the ribcage or hips. This is why it’s especially important to pay attention to any new pain that’s experienced after elderly people fall.

Pay close attention to symptoms that could indicate a broken bone; this could be pain when coughing or laughing which may suggest a broken ribcage. Likewise, pain when moving or restricting walking could suggest a broken hip. If they experience new pain in areas where bones are likely to be broken, you should consult a medical professional to have this checked.

2. Bruises or blood clots

Often, when someone has a bump or fall, this can cause substantial bruising. This indicates there are broken blood vessels under the skin. Bruising can also imply more severe injuries, including sprains, strains or internal bleeding.

Elderly skin is more prone to bruising due to thinning skin and fragile blood vessels underneath the skin. Therefore, elderly people are more likely to experience bruising after a fall. If the bruising is significant and painful and covers a large area, you should seek medical advice to determine if it requires attention.

3. Cuts or lacerations

Depending on the surroundings and the cause of a fall, an elderly person may encounter sharp objects which could lead to cuts or skin lacerations. Serious cuts or lacerations may require medical intervention and stitches to stop the bleeding. If a laceration is deep enough, it could cause muscle, nerve or soft tissue damage. Prompt medical treatment can reduce the risk of infection, help reduce scarring and encourage faster healing.

4. Limited movement

After a fall or any impact with the ground, it’s normal to experience soreness and stiffness. Stiffness should usually subside quickly with stretching and moving around following a fall. However, if the pain or stiffness restricts the ability to move then it could be something serious. Serious injuries such as broken bones or spinal injuries can make it difficult to move immediately after a fall. If you notice unusual mobility limitations following an elderly fall, seek advice from a medical professional.

5. Ongoing pain

Losing balance and hitting the ground unexpectedly can result in immediate feelings of shock and pain. Sometimes, the initial pain may be minor and will subside or heal quickly. However, other times the pain can be more severe and ongoing.

If your elderly loved one experiences delayed soreness after a fall, this could be because of something more serious like a broken bone, sprain or muscular injury. Delayed pain can often occur after the shock and adrenaline of the fall have worn off.

Ignoring ongoing pain can result in the injury becoming worse over time and prolonging the healing process. It’s always recommended to seek medical attention after an elderly person falls to ensure they have no underlying injuries.

6. Sudden, sharp pain

Similar to ongoing pain, sudden and sharp pains can also be an indication that there are serious injuries. Broken bones often involve sudden, sharp pain. In some cases, even the lightest pressure or movement of an injury can cause pain.

Not all injuries or symptoms are visible. If sudden, sharp pain is experienced then it’s possible there’s a serious injury and you should seek medical attention.

7. Swelling

Swelling can often occur immediately after a fall and indicate there may be an injury. Swelling usually appears when there’s a broken bone, sprain or strain. However, you may not notice swelling straight after the fall has occurred. Instead, the swelling may increase throughout the day so it’s an important symptom to look for after a fall.

If an elderly person has existing swollen limbs, this can make swelling after a fall more difficult to notice. Swelling in seniors could be the result of water retention in the body. This is known as oedema and causes the legs and ankles to swell, but there are different kinds of exercises to reduce swollen ankles. If an elderly person experiences ankle swelling after a fall, you should consult a medical professional before attempting any exercises as there could be an underlying injury.

Body injuries

As well as the symptoms mentioned above, there are body injuries which you should be mindful of and pay close attention to. If you’re concerned about any of these in an elderly person after a fall, consult a medical professional.

8. Arm injuries in the elbow, shoulder or wrist

It’s human instinct to brace ourselves for a fall – usually, this involves putting a hand or arm out to cushion the fall to the ground. This can lead to various arm injuries from falling in the elbows, shoulders or wrists. Minor injuries may heal on their own over time, while others may require medical intervention, such as a dislocation.

9. Back pain & injuries

Back pain can often occur after a fall due to the sudden impact of hitting the ground. If an elderly person has existing back pain, this can worsen the issue. However, back pain following a fall could be due to a serious injury such as a herniated disc or compression fracture.

Older adults with osteoporosis are at higher risk of experiencing compression fractures. Symptoms can include severe back pain and difficulty standing or walking. If you suspect an elderly person has back pain following a fall, they should get plenty of rest and consult a medical professional if the pain persists.

10. Head injuries or loss of consciousness

If an elderly person hits their head during a fall or loses consciousness, you should seek medical attention immediately. Some signs of a head injury are not instantly obvious and will only present themselves later.

Signs of a head injury vary depending on the severity but some common symptoms to look for after a fall are:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in ears

11. Knee & ankle injuries

Knee injuries from falling can be as minor as a bruise or sprain to a serious injury like a torn ligament or fracture. A sprain occurs when a ligament in the knee is overstretched and can usually be treat at home. A torn ligament, on the other hand, is considered a serious injury and often requires surgery to repair. Without proper treatment, a torn ligament can lead to chronic pain and further complications.

Knee pain after a fall usually signifies something serious if there’s significant swelling, severe pain or difficulty standing or walking. In this case, you should seek medical attention.

If an elderly person experiences knee or ankle swelling after a fall, you should always seek medical advice to ensure they receive the best treatment. However, the NHS does recommend using the RICE method to help with swelling and supporting an injury for the first few days.5

  1. Rest – avoid putting any weight on the injury
  2. Ice – apply a cold compress every couple of hours
  3. Compression – wrap the injury with a bandage to support it
  4. Elevate – keep the injury raised as much as possible

Swelling often doesn’t appear immediately in ankle injuries and could take several hours to develop. For a mild sprain, swelling could last several days; for severe sprains, swelling normally lasts longer until the injury heals.

12. Neck injuries

Whiplash is a common neck injury from falling. This type of injury is caused by a sudden, rapid movement of the head and neck. The sudden movement can cause a sprain in the soft neck tissue, resulting in neck pain, stiffness, headaches or dizziness. In some cases, the symptoms of whiplash may only appear several hours or days after the fall. The NHS recommends taking pain medication to help with the pain of whiplash and continuing with daily activities as normal to speed up recovery.6

Services to support elderly people at home

Knowing your elderly loved one is living alone can be unsettling. You may be worried they’re struggling by themselves, feeling lonely, or might have a fall whilst they’re alone. There’s also the concern they won’t communicate these feelings to anyone. However, there are ways in which you can help them and enable them to maintain their independence and routines at home.

Elderly sitting services or Elderly Care at Home can provide reassurance in these circumstances. Elderly sitting services are where a volunteer or Care Assistant visits your loved one at home to provide companionship. Elderly Care is similar – a trained, professional Care Assistant will provide support to your loved one at home by carrying out various tasks. These services also provide valuable peace of mind that your loved one is receiving support and there’s someone nearby in the event of a fall.

To learn more about our Home Care services and how we can help, find your local Alina Homecare Team.

1. NHS, “Falls”, Reviewed 12 January 2024
2. GOV.UK, “Falls: applying All Our Health”, Reviewed 12 January 2024
3. NHS, “Osteoporosis”, Reviewed 12 January 2024
4. TakingCare, “Elderly falls and NHS Healthcare report”, Reviewed 12 January 2024
5. NHS, “Sprains and strains”, Reviewed 12 January 2024
6. NHS, “Whiplash”, Reviewed 12 January 2024