Falling is the commonest cause of accidental injury in the UK, with more than 2.7 million people affected each year. Falls can happen to anyone irrespective of age or medical condition, though having multiple sclerosis can increase the risk of falling.
In the majority of reported cases falls cause no serious harm other than perhaps embarrassment and dented pride. However, the consequences of falls can be serious, ranging from distress and loss of confidence, through to injuries, pain and loss of independence.
Why do people fall?
Many falls are caused by a combination of factors, both to do with objects in the environment - such as tripping over something - and health related issues. Some of the MS related factors that increase the risk of falling include:
- Visual problems
- Problems with mobility and balance
- Continence problems
- Problems relating to concentration, attention span, poor memory or other cognitive symptoms
- Side effects of medications
Fear of falling
If you have experienced a previous fall, you may be concerned about falling again and become less active or limit what you do in an attempt to avoid situations where you feel you might be more vulnerable.
The fear of falling can itself be a risk factor. Reduced activity may mean your stamina levels and fitness are reduced. As a result, everyday activities will be more physically demanding and the risk of falling increased. You may become less motivated and increasingly dependent on others.
Ideas to reduce the fear of falling
- Talk about concerns and share worries with others.
- Consider getting a personal alarm system.
- If you have one, keep your mobile with you at all times so that you can call someone for help.
- Consider what you would do in an emergency and who you would call.
- Try not to let your fear of falling make you avoid social situations.
- Learn and practise ways to get up if you should fall
What to do if you fall
If you do fall, try not to panic. Although you may feel a little shaken and shocked, try to stay calm, gather your thoughts and remember what you need to do.
If you don't feel hurt and you feel able to get up:
- Take your time and don't get up too quickly (even if urged to do so)
- Roll onto your hands and knees and look for something stable, such as a chair or bed
- Holding onto this, slowly get up
- Sit down and rest for a while to recover
If you do feel hurt or are unable to get up:
- Try to get someone's attention, either by shouting or making a noise or by using your personal alarm or mobile phone
- While you are waiting for help, get as comfortable and warm as you can. For instance, try to a carpeted area rather than the bare floor if you can; and try to reach something warm to put over you (particularly your legs and feet)
- Unless you suspect a fracture, try to change your position every half an hour or so
Where to seek further advice and assistance
If you have had a fall or are concerned that you are liable to have a fall, there are a number of services that may be able to offer some help. These include:
- GP - as well as assessing and treating any health issues, your GP can refer you to appropriate local services and can recommend a falls risk assessment, which will look at ways to improve safety in your home and reduce the risk of further falls.
- Physiotherapist - can suggest exercises to improve fitness, balance and posture and can also advise on walking equipment. Some services may provide training in transferring into and out of a wheelchair
- Occupational therapist - can help you to find easier ways of doing everyday tasks such as showering or cooking or at work. They can also advise on and provide some equipment and adaptations to the home
- PLoS One 2014;9(9):e107620. Full article Falls in people with multiple sclerosis compared with falls in healthy controls.
- Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine 2013;45(5):452-457. Full article A population-based study of fall risk factors among people with multiple sclerosis in Stockholm county.
- London: National Patient Safety Agency; 2007. Full report Slips, trips and falls in hospital: the third report from the Patient Safety Observatory, PSO/3.
Last updated: 18 September 2015
This page will be reviewed within three years