Falling at home continues to be a health concern for older adults. It is common for the elderly to want to continue to live in their own home, but concerns remain. The tips below can help reduce fall risks today and keep elders in the home longer and safer.
One in every four elders will have a fall.
Falls can result in debilitating injury or even death.
Improving accessibility and safety in the home environment can help reduce fall risks.
There are simple interventions you can do today that can help reduce falls in the home.
Elderly fall risks by the numbers
We all welcome the idea that the elders we love can remain independent in their homes for as long as is safe and appropriate. However, the strength, endurance, and flexibility they enjoyed in their younger years do not always follow them into old age.
As the number of elder adults grows annually, falls will continue to be a health concern. One in four elder adults falls every year in the United States. Approximately 3 million elders end up in the Emergency Department after a fall for serious injuries such as bone fractures or traumatic brain injuries. Unfortunately, 32,000 of these falls result in death because of injuries related to falling.
Why this matters
Anticipating needs and initiating environmental interventions can help elders maintain their autonomy and safety longer while staying in the home they love. This may decrease depression, build their confidence, and support their dignity while they face age-related limitations.
The following questions and concerns are particularly helpful to consider when addressing the needs of elderly persons.
Questions and concerns to address in the home today:
1. Furniture placement
Does the layout accommodate a walker, wheelchair, and range-of-motion limitations?
Is the TV placed in a location that reduces neck and eye strain?
2. Indoor lighting
Strategically locate lamps for safety.
Make sure all lighting sources have working bulbs with higher wattage for better illumination.
Remember to light hallways as well.
3. Oxygen use safety
Is the oxygen equipment stored safely and out of walking paths?
Is your elder able to navigate around their home without tripping on the tubing?
4. Throw rugs
It’s highly advised to remove all throw rugs/area rugs. They are a frequent cause of tripping and falling.
Don’t forget about the bathroom rugs.
5. Basic clutter
Clutter can increase the risk of falling.
Keep items off the floor and stored them safely.
Always keep pathways clear.
6. Electrical cords/extension cords
Walking paths need to remain free of trip factors.
Electrical cords should be kept close to the wall.
Keep stairs clutter-free and with solid handrails in place.
Provide adequate lighting and slip guards.
Is a ramp or electric stair lift needed?
Does your elder need to have their upstairs bedroom put in the downstairs area because stair climbing is too difficult?
8. Grab bar needs
Assess for grab bar placement in and around all showers, near toilets, and in doorways where changes in elevation from room to room (such as a sunken living room) are present.
9. Bathroom safety/navigation needs
Install permanent slip mats in bathtubs and showers.
Make sure toilet paper holders are within reach.
Shower benches can reduce the potential of slipping.
Walk-in showers are a bonus. Be sure to check if walk-in showers are covered by Medicare or your insurance provider.
10. Transfer safety
Is the bed too high or low off the ground?
A bed assist rail can boost safety for secure transfers and bed mobility.
Does your elder have difficulty getting out of their old, beloved recliner? An electric lift recliner may help.
Does your elder lock their wheelchair or walker brakes every time they transfer?
11. Kitchen necessities
Place frequently used utensils, appliances, and food in areas that best suit their current range of motion.
12. Emergency button needs
If your elder has had even just one fall, an emergency pendant can be a lifesaver.
Do not count on your elder to have their phone within reach in case of emergency.
You may have to remind them to wear the device on their person 24/7.
13. Pet safety/management
Fur friends can become enemies to older adult safety.
Are they a trip hazard, always getting underfoot?
Is the dog too large or strong to be walked by your elder alone without pulling dangerously on the leash?
14. Outside perimeter home safety
Nighttime lighting is a must for all entrances.
Trim bushes away from lighting sources.
A ramp can help circumvent stairs.
Try to fix all uneven surfaces.
15. Vital information location
If 911 is initiated due to a fall with injuries or the inability to get the elder off the floor safely, emergency workers are greatly served by having immediate access to the elder’s advance directives (living will/medical power of attorney), DNR form, and current medication list including medication allergies.
A rule of thumb is to have this paperwork located in a convenient location such as in a sealable bag on the refrigerator.
Care for your elder
Every time you phone or visit your elder, inquire if they’ve had a recent fall. Keep in mind that many frail older adults are too embarrassed to admit they’ve fallen. If you suspect a fall, look for bruises, abrasions, or skin tears each visit. Ask them if they remember where they got them from. They may have forgotten about the time last Tuesday they “slipped off the side of the bed and onto the floor.” Asking them may jog their memory.
Falling is a definite sign they need to see their medical provider. They may become irritated by your concerns. Maybe they are not using their walker at home when they most certainly always need it.
You may hear “I’m not going to fall” repeatedly from your proud elder. A simple reminder that that’s why they are called “accidents” may help an older adult to put safety first. Consider contacting a local agency that provides non-skilled care to assist them with the tasks they can no longer do safely.
Be gentle. They’ve been self-sufficient for decades. They deserve to be treated with respect, even when they may require additional help or changes to their home environment to stay safe.
- National Library of Medicine. The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby-Boomers.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Falls.
- BMC Geriatrics. Association between housing environment and depressive symptoms among older people: a multidimensional assessment.