You’ve probably already heard that falling is the most frequent cause of injury among people age 65 and older.

But here’s a question to ponder…

Why do most seniors fall?

You might think that most falls are due to tripping or slipping, but a new study points to a different, more surprising cause.

It’s something that most of us do every day without even thinking—and it’s something that can be easily avoided.


In the first study of its kind, Canadian researchers set up shop at two long-term-care facilities for the elderly that had video cameras installed in common areas (dining rooms, lounges, hallways, etc). Whenever an elderly resident fell on camera, researchers analyzed the video footage to determine what caused the fall. Here are the problems that caused the falls and the percentage of falls that each problem caused…

  • Unknown cause: 2%
  • Slipping: 3%
  • Bumps or hits: 11%
  • Loss of support: 11%
  • Collapse: 11%
  • Trips or stumbles: 21%
  • Incorrect weight-shifting (more on this below): 41%!

So something the researchers called “incorrect weight-shifting” was, unexpectedly, the top cause of falls. Now, what does that mean exactly? Incorrect weight-shifting is when you abruptly change your center of gravity so that the bulk of your weight isn’t aligned between your feet—it’s thrown off to one side, which can cause your body to tilt off balance. This is different from tripping, for example (when your balance is thrown off by some external object)—this problem is internal or self-induced, due to the way you move around.


You can fall at any age, of course, but the rate of falls during normal daily activities increases with age, said lead study author Stephen Robinovitch, PhD. So the older you get, the more careful you need to be. And age isn’t the only risk factor—certain conditions also can play a role, such as vision impairment, cognitive problems and reduced muscle strength, to name just a few.

To help protect yourself (or a loved one) from taking a spill, focus on the number-one form of prevention, according to this study—try not to shift your center of gravity outside the base of support provided by your feet while moving around. Here are some tips from Dr. Robinovitch, which may help you avoid doing exactly that…

  • When standing: Keep your body weight evenly distributed between your feet—don’t lean too far sideways or on the heels or balls of your feet.
  • When walking: Avoid abrupt turns—turn slowly, with your whole body at once (don’t swivel your head and torso around without moving your lower half, too, for instance).
  • When reaching: Instead of grasping for high items that are near the limit of your reach (such as the door of a kitchen cabinet that’s above the refrigerator) and causing your body to lurch awkwardly, use a wide, low step stool or call someone taller to help.
  • When bending: If you’ve dropped, say, your car keys, instead of leaning down with your upper body while keeping your legs straight (which causes your center of gravity to shift forward), lower yourself by bending your knees and moving into a squatting position.