Key messages

  • Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury in older Australians.
  • A fall is an event that results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level.
  • Older people are encouraged to discuss all falls (including ones that didn’t cause injury) with their general practitioners or other health care provider, to make it easier to identify and address contributory factors.
  • Falls can be prevented by exercising, modifying the environment (particularly at home) and reducing some medications. Vitamin D and calcium supplements can also reduce the severity of fall injuries.

The department endorses the World Health Organization’s definition of a fall: an event that results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level.

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury of older Australians. In 2011‑12, 96,385 people aged 65 years and older had a fall that required a hospital stay (Tovell, Harrison & Pointer 2014). In Victoria, falls accounted for almost three-quarters (72%) of injury related hospital admissions and more than half (53%) of injury related emergency department presentations (Clapperton & Fernando 2014).

More than twice as many women were hospitalised as men, and fractures were the most common type of injury associated with a fall (Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit 2013)

Falls can cause loss of confidence and fear of falling, so older people become less active over time, which increases their risk of falling. Older people are encouraged to discuss all falls (including ones that didn’t cause injury) with their general practitioners or other health care provider, to make it easier to identify and address contributory factors.

Evidence suggests falls can be prevented. Randomised controlled trials (Cochrane Collaboration 2013) show interventions can reduce falls among older people living in their own home. Effective approaches include exercise (home exercise programs or group exercise programs targeting balance and strength, and tai chi), reducing psychotropic medications, cataract surgery, home assessment and behavioural modification by occupational therapists, and multi-factorial interventions. Further, research suggests vitamin D and calcium supplements can reduce fall-related fractures.

Reference texts

Tovell A, Harrison JE and Pointer S 2014. Hospitalised injuries in older Australians, 2011-2012, Injury research and statistics series no. 90, cat. no. INJCAT 166, AIHW, Canberra.

Clapperton A and Fernando T 2014, Unintentional (accidental) hospital-treated injury in Victoria, 2012‑13, E bulletin edition 10, Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit, Monash Injury Research Institute, Melbourne.

Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit 2013, Hazard 76 – a settings-based analysis of injury data in Victoria, Monash Injury Research Institute, Melbourne.

Cochrane Collaboration 2013, Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community