Infections, not loose rugs, may call falls

Created date

November 23rd, 2015
woman holding her head
woman holding her head

Falls are a leading cause of disability and death among seniors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strategies in the home to reduce falls include improving lighting, reducing clutter, and securing loose rugs. But results of a new study suggest that there may be something else that can trip you up: infection.

Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital evaluated 161 patients who showed up in the emergency room because of a fall. They found that up to 45% of them also had an infection when they arrived. Most of them had urinary tract infections, followed by infections of the blood, the respiratory system, and heart valves.

Hard to spot

Infections may not initially be suspected in seniors because they often have no classic signs such as fever, increased heart rate, or abnormal white blood cell counts (only 20% of the study participants had a fever, for example). Nevertheless, any infectious process can cause low blood pressure, weakness, dizziness, or fatigue—any of which can contribute to unsure footing and thus a fall.

The researchers say that their findings should alert caregivers and health care providers to take a closer look at the reason for a fall in order for quick diagnosis and treatment of an infection if it is present, and also to be cognizant of any signs of illness in an older adult in order to prevent a possible fall.