Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Do you need to see a doctor after a fall?

Q. My 83-year-old mother told me recently that she fell in her bedroom. She said she feels fine, and she's refusing to see her doctor about it. Should I insist that she go?

A. Yes, you should convince her to see her doctor. Falls are not a normal part of aging, but they are common. Between 30% and 40% of adults ages 65 years or older who are not in nursing homes or assisted living facilities fall at least once each year. Falls are the leading cause of injury in adults among this age group. Any older woman who falls needs to be evaluated by a doctor, especially because once you have had one fall you are more likely to fall again. The doctor will get a detailed history of the circumstances of the fall; assess your mother's vision; check her blood pressure while she is lying down, sitting, and standing; review her medication list; examine her feet; test her leg strength and balance; and evaluate how well she walks.

Depending on what the doctor finds, your mother might be advised to visit the eye doctor, change medications, or see a physical therapist or podiatrist. The doctor should also talk about screening for osteoporosis if your mother hasn't already had a bone density scan. Any older adult who falls should take about 800 IU of vitamin D every day. Vitamin D has been shown to lower the risk of additional falls in people who have already fallen.

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