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Had a fall? Here’s why your doctor wants to know 

Had a fall? Here’s why your doctor wants to know 

Even if you don’t think you were injured, it’s important to bring up a tumble at your next appointment. Here’s why.  

Maybe you were stepping out of your car and slipped on some ice on the sidewalk. Or you tripped over an empty shoebox on the way to the couch. Or you took a new medication, felt woozy and fell over.  
Whatever the case, falls happen all the time and can be really scary. While not all of them lead to injury, some do — including serious ones, such as broken bones, head injuries or worse.1 

Falling might not seem like a big deal at the time, especially if you get up and dust yourself off. But it’s still important to let your doctor know that it happened. Here’s why.   

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What are the risks of falling?  

The biggest risk with falling is getting hurt. One out of five falls results in a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 Falls are also the leading cause of injury death in adults ages 65 and older.2 

If you fall once, you are twice as likely to fall a second time — even if you weren’t hurt the first time.1 One reason? Many older adults who fall start to fear falling again. And this can cause them to cut back on everyday chores and activities.1 For example, a fear of falling may stop you from: 

  • Cleaning your home 
  • Gardening 
  • Going on walks 
  • Grocery shopping 
  • Using the stairs 

Instead of keeping you safe, not doing these activities can have the opposite effect. If you limit your physical activity, that can increase your chances of falling again.

“As we get older, we tend to lose muscle mass. And lower muscle mass means less balance,” says Derick Young, MD. He’s a senior medical director with Optum in San Antonio, Texas. It’s really important to pay attention to your activity level after a fall. If you aren’t moving as much, you may lose muscle mass faster, he adds. 

Why falls happen (and some people don’t report them) 

Research shows that many older adults don’t tell their doctor about a recent fall. More than 1 in 4 older adults fall every year, yet less than half tell their doctor about it.1 

One reason why older adults may be hesitant to tell their doctors is that they’re worried about losing their independence, says Dr. Young. “Or maybe their doctor will recommend using a cane or walker, and some people feel like that makes them feel or look old,” he adds.  

According to the CDC, most older adults fall because of a combination of risk factors. These may include:1  

  • Difficulties with walking and balance 
  • Foot pain (are your feet causing you pain when you walk?) 
  • Home hazards, such as broken steps, uneven floors and objects that can be easily tripped over (such as throw rugs)3 
  • Not getting enough vitamin D, which helps build healthy muscles and bones4 
  • Poor footwear choices
  • Underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease5 
  • Use of medicines that can affect balance (such as sedatives or antidepressants) 
  • Vision problems 

Looking for a doctor who really listens to you? Check out Optum Care’s network of primary care providers and specialists. Find an Optum doctor.

How can my doctor help me avoid falls?  

Let’s say you had a fall, but you came away without a serious injury. What’s your next move? You’ll want to schedule an appointment with your doctor anyway and let them know exactly what happened. That way, they’ll be able to understand how dangerous the fall may have been. They can also examine you to see if you have injuries that you may not be aware of.  

Your doctor might also ask:

  • Whether you've any other falls besides this one in the last year
  • Whether you've had any problems with balance or walking in the last year

Your doctor can even help in ways that may surprise you. For example, they can help you avoid more falls through a simple test called a fall risk assessment.6 It might take place during a routine checkup or at your annual wellness visit. That’s a special yearly check-in with your doctor that you get at no cost to you with your Medicare plan.7  

During the assessment, they’ll help identify your risk factors for falling and recommend ways to avoid falling in the future.6, 7 They may ask you to perform some simple movements to test your gait (the way you walk), strength and balance.3 

Your doctor may also check other risk factors, such as your:3, 6 

  • Current list of medications (and what side effects they cause or how they interact with other meds you’re taking)  
  • Feet 
  • Vision 
  • Vitamin D levels 

What can I do to help prevent future falls? 

Your doctor can use the results of the above test to recommend next steps and ways to lower your risk of another fall. They might refer you to a physical therapist. That’s a type of health care provider that can help you learn how to move better. A physical therapist can create an exercise program to help improve your muscle strength and balance.8  

While it’s always great to see a doctor or specialist if you’re having issues, they can also help you figure out ways of preventing future falls on your own. Here are some of the most common ways you can do this:1  

Change your footwear. Well-fitting, low-heeled shoes with rubber soles to prevent slipping can support your feet and lower your risk of falling. Avoid walking around the house in socks.5 

Get your vision checked. If you’re having trouble seeing, your risk of falling will be higher.9 This is because you’re more likely to miss a step or trip over an object. You should also visit your eye doctor at least once a year to make sure your prescription is up to date.9  

Make your home safer. Clear any clutter and remove any rugs that you could trip over. You can also install grab bars next to the shower and toilet, put railings on both sides of the stairs, and add brighter lights around your home. 

Up your vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D levels can weaken your bones.6 Add more foods rich in vitamin D to your diet, such as salmon, low-fat milk and mushrooms.10 Your doctor may also suggest a supplement to help raise your vitamin D levels.  

Review your medications. Some medications (or medication combinations) have side effects that might make you dizzy or sleepy.1  

Start a regular fitness routine. Your routine can include your favorite exercises to strengthen your legs and improve your balance. Ideas include brisk walking, tai chi and yoga.11 

If you already see an Optum provider, by all means talk to them about any past falls. Your doctor can also refer you to a physical therapist for further guidance. Your care team is committed to helping you stay healthier to avoid any future falls. 


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about falls. Last reviewed May 12, 2023. Accessed November 27, 2023. 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older adult fall prevention. Last reviewed April 12, 2023. Accessed November 27, 2023.  
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STEADI algorithm for fall risk screening, assessment, and intervention among community-dwelling adults 65 years and older. Accessed November 27, 2023. 
  4. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Calcium and vitamin D: important for bone health. Last reviewed May 2023. Accessed November 27, 2023.  
  5. National Institute on Aging. Falls and fractures in older adults: causes and prevention. Last reviewed September 12, 2022. Accessed November 27, 2023. 
  6. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Fall risk assessment. Last updated September 13, 2021. Accessed November 27, 2023.   
  7. Mayo Clinic Health System. Staying healthy as you age: Medicare Annual Wellness Visits explained. Published June 16, 2023. Accessed November 27, 2023. 
  8. Mayo Clinic. Fall prevention: Simple tips to prevent falls. Accessed December 12, 2023. 
  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Lower your risk of falling. Last updated November 27, 2023. Accessed November 27, 2023.  
  10. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D. Last updated September 18, 2023. Accessed November 27, 2023.  
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity for different groups. Last reviewed July 29, 2021. Accessed November 27, 2023.  

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