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  • Emily McGuire

Ensuring Stability: A Guide to Fall Prevention for Seniors

As we journey through life, maintaining balance becomes increasingly vital, especially as we age. For seniors, preventing falls is not just a matter of physical safety but a cornerstone of preserving independence. Luckily, many potential falls can be prevented with the right strategies and support. In this blog post, we’ll discuss effective fall prevention strategies tailored to the unique needs of seniors. We will also provide some helpful exercises to assess and improve balance.

Woman helping a senior man after a fall

Understanding the Risk Factors 

To understand why prevention strategies are necessary, we need to first understand what factors contribute to falls among elderly populations. 

  • Muscle Weakness and Imbalance – as we age, muscle strength and coordination decline, making it harder to maintain balance. This is preventable and/or can be negated with proper training. 

  • Vision  – vision impairments can make it difficult to see obstacles, shadows, and uneven surfaces, and can also cause issues with depth perception. 

  • Proprioception – our sense of where our body is in a space, can also decline with age, impacting balance. 

  • Chronic Health Conditions – conditions like arthritis, Parkinson’s, or diabetes can affect mobility and increase the risk of a fall. 

  • Medication Side Effects – certain medications can cause dizziness, drowsiness, or dehydration, which could make a fall more likely. 

  • Environmental Hazards – cluttered spaces, poor lighting, slippery floors, and uneven surfaces pose significant risks for falls. 

  • Reduction in Functional Activity – Often as we age, we put self-limiting beliefs upon ourselves and reduce our activities such as resistance or strength training, fitness, and balance activities, narrowing our functional movement scope. 


Gaining Independence Through Fall Prevention Strategies 

  1. Stay Physically Active: Regular exercise, including activities that improve strength, balance, and flexibility, can significantly reduce the risk of falls. Some safe activities include walking, Tai Chi, yoga, and water aerobics. We recommend seeking out senior-friendly fitness classes or 1-on-1 training, as resistance training or strength training is extremely important for safety, improved balance, strength, and coordination.  

  1. Conduct Home Safety Assessments: Identify and address potential hazards in the home environment. This includes removing clutter, securing rugs, installing grab bars in bathrooms, improving lighting, and ensuring clear pathways. 

  1. Review Medications Regularly: Seniors should consult their healthcare provider to review medications that may increase fall risk. Adjustments or modifications may be made to reduce side effects. 

  1. Use Assistive Devices: For those with mobility issues, using assistive devices such as canes, walkers, or wheelchairs can provide added support and stability. We also recommend wearing well-fitted shoes that have soles with good grip to avoid slipping. 

  1. Seek Professional Help: A skilled physical therapist, occupational therapist, or personal trainer could help to provide personalized techniques and exercises to improve your stability.  


Physical & Occupational Therapy for Seniors 

Physical and occupational therapists can offer personalized solutions to help prevent falls. A physical therapy approach will focus on exercise programs aimed at improving strength, balance, and mobility. The occupational therapy approach will focus more on helping seniors perform activities of daily living and address environmental factors that may impact safety and independence. This includes looking into in-home safety modifications, recommending assistive devices, and performing functional mobility training to improve independence when doing activities like getting dressed, getting into or out of a car or bed, climbing stairs, etc. 


Balance Exercises for Seniors

The following exercises are intended to help seniors and those at risk of falling assess and improve their balance and proprioception. Before attempting these exercises, we recommend trying the Berg Balance Assessment – a simple test that a physical therapist or doctor can administer to assess a person’s risk of falling. In this test, a lower score indicates a higher risk of falling. If you score low, we recommend you see a physical therapist to receive a personalized exercise program to improve your balance. 


Safety Tips 

We advise that these exercises be performed with another person in the room in case you need assistance. These exercises should be performed in a corner or near a piece of furniture that you can use to stabilize yourself if you begin to lose your balance. Before you begin each exercise, perform a baseline balance check by standing in the starting position with your eyes closed for 30 seconds. The following exercises include progressions – additional elements that make the exercise more challenging. As you get better at performing the first variations, you can add in progressions to further improve your balance over time.  



Video Demonstration: Hip Excursions Exercise


Hip Excursions Exercise

Repetitions: Repeat each step 30 times or more before moving on to the next progression. 

Starting Exercise: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. 

  1. Lean forward and then backward, hinging at the hips. 

  2. Lean from side to side, hinging at the hips.

  3. Twist side to side, turning your whole torso. 

Progression 1: Repeat movements with feet together. 

Progression 2: Repeat movements with feet apart and eyes closed. 

Progression 3: Repeat movements with feet together and eyes closed. 

Progression 4: Stagger your feet so that one foot is in front of you and the other is slightly behind you. Repeat the movements while in this split stance, then switch position so that the other foot is in front and repeat the movements once more. 

Progression 5: Stand on an Airex balance pad or another soft surface. Repeat the starting exercise and progressions 1-3. 


Video Demonstration: Marching Exercise

Marching Exercise 

Repetitions: Repeat each step 10 times before moving on to the next progression. More repetitions can be added as your balance improves. 

Starting Exercise: Stand with arms out. 

  1. Raise one foot off the ground. 

  1. Switch sides, raising the other foot off the ground. 

  1. Alternate back and forth, as though slowly marching. 

Progression 1: Repeat movements with arms crossed. 

Progression 2: Repeat movements with arms out and eyes closed. 

Progression 3: Repeat movements with arms crossed and eyes closed.  

Progression 4: Stand on an Airex balance pad or another soft surface. Repeat the starting exercise and progressions 1-3. 


Safe Fall Techniques for Seniors 

Even with prevention strategies in place, falls can still happen. Learning safe fall techniques can help to avoid injury when falling, as well as rising from a fall. While we recommend having a professional walk you through the best techniques, here are some quick pointers. 

  • Bend Your Legs – bend knees and hips to lower your center of gravity, this will give you more control over the fall and lessen the impact. 

  • Protect Your Head – if you are falling forward, turn your head to the side. If you are falling backward, tuck your chin to your chest. This will help ensure your head doesn’t hit the ground first. 

  • Absorb the Impact – if possible, try to land on the more muscular parts of your body, like the buttocks or thighs. Do not try to break your fall with your hands or arms, as this can lead to fractures in the wrists.   

  • Roll With It – once you make impact, try to roll with the momentum to distribute the force of the fall over a larger area. 


Putting Safety First 

Falls among seniors are not an inevitable consequence of aging but rather a preventable risk, with the right strategies in place. By promoting physical activity, conducting home assessments, reviewing medications, and utilizing assistive devices, we can significantly reduce the incidence of falls and enhance the well-being of seniors. At Rehab United, we're dedicated to supporting seniors in their journey toward maintaining stability, independence, and vitality. Contact us today to learn more about our fall prevention programs and how we can help you or your loved ones stay safe and thrive. 


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Emily McGuire is a Marketing Associate and staff writer for Rehab United. With a Bachelor's degree in International Business from UC San Diego, she is a California native with a passion for writing, digital marketing, health, and wellness.

Medically Reviewed By: Bryan Hill, PT, FAFS, CF-L1, BFRC, is the Chief Executive Officer and co-owner of Rehab United Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy. Bryan received his bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy and Health Sciences from the University of New England and has been a physical therapist in the San Diego community since 1998. Through a close professional and personal relationship with renowned therapist Gary Gray, and as a member of the inaugural class of The Gray Institute for Functional Transformation (GIFT) fellowship, Bryan has been a strong advocate, pioneer, and expert in the principles of Applied Functional Science. Throughout his experience as both a clinician and an educator in the field, Bryan has not only treated a wide range of patient/athlete demographics and diagnoses, but has helped inspire and lead San Diego’s aspiring clinicians to become the future of medicine.

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