Millions of older people fall each year. Sometimes the effects can be dire

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Not much information has been released about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s falling and breaking her ribs. The Supreme Court has issued a terse statement saying that the 85-year-old justice fell in her office, went home, but then went to the hospital for observation and treatment for fractures to three ribs on her left side.

But one thing is clear: Falls are a problem for older people. The risk of falling rises as people get older and, once falls happen, they can cause broken bones — and even more serious problems, including disability and death.

Millions of people 65 years old or older fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one in four older people falls each year, though less than half tell their doctor. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury, the agency said.


The National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health, said on its website that there are many possible reasons older people fall down, including a decline in eyesight, hearing, or reflexes; diabetes and heart disease; and problems with a person’s thyroid, nerves, feet, or blood vessels. Some medicines may also cause dizziness and sleepiness.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Other risk factors include muscle weakness, problems with balance and gait, and blood pressure that drops too much when a person stands up. Confusion on waking up can also lead to falls, the institute says.

Taking care of your health may help, the institute said. It suggested, among other things, that people stay physically active, have their eyes and ears tested, check out the side effects of their medicines, get plenty of sleep, limit their alcohol intake, and stand up slowly.

Other tips included: People should use a cane or walker if they need it, be careful on wet or icy surfaces, and wear non-skid shoes.

People should also keep their bones strong, the institute said.


“Having healthy bones won’t prevent a fall, but if you fall, it might prevent breaking a hip or other bone, which may lead to a hospital or nursing home stay, disability, or even death,” the institute said, recommending getting enough calcium and Vitamin D.

People should also make sure to maintain a healthy weight because being underweight increases the risk of bone loss, thus making people more susceptible to broken bones, the said.

The institute also offered tips on how people can get up if they fall and summon help and fall-proof their homes.

The CDC recommended that people ask their doctor about their risk of falling, ask them to review their medications, and ask about Vitamin D supplements.

The institute also offered tips on how people can get up and summon help if they fall, and how to fall-proof their homes.


Here are links to the National Institute on Aging and CDC sites that offer information and tips on falls.