In the United States, falls are the leading cause of hospitalizations and fatal injuries in people over 65.
Most accidents occur in the home, and if you’re elderly those accidents can be life-threatening. It’s important, therefore, to do everything you can to make your home safe for yourself and/or your elderly loved ones.
Steps to Reduce the Risk of Falls for the Elderly
By making a few simple changes to your home and lifestyle, you can significantly reduce the risks of falls. These changes include:
Get Regular Vision Checks
Vision deteriorates with age and it becomes more important for elderly people to make regular trips to their eye doctor. They will run checks, make sure your prescription is up to date, and look for issues such as cataracts.
It’s important to choose the right glasses and to understand the potential faults of these glasses. For instance, while transition lenses make life easier for people who don’t want to carry an additional pair of sunglasses, this transition doesn’t occur instantly.
Extra caution is needed, therefore, when re-entering the house after being outside for extended periods.
Bi-focal lenses also cause problems when climbing stairs and navigating other potentially hazardous areas.
Remove Trip Hazards
Do you have a coffee table sitting in the middle of the living room? Are there several rugs that sit high off the ground? Are there any wires, children’s toys, pet toys, and hazardous pieces of furniture?
You don’t need to live in a completely minimalist home just to create a safe space. However, it’s important to move furniture out of the way and to get into the habit of clearing the floor after your kids or pets have been playing.
Use Mobility Aids
If you’re securing the home for an elderly loved one or care recipient, you can watch them as they move around and pay attention to the areas where they struggle the most.
- Grab Bars—for when they spend a lot of time clinging to the walls and desperately seeking support.
- Stairlifts—if they struggle to climb the stairs, moving slowly and awkwardly.
- Lift Chairs—if it takes them a long time to get into and out of the chair.
- Walk-in Bathtubs—when the risk of slips and falls is significant.
- Shower Chairs—when baths are not an option, but they can’t stand for long periods.
- Anti-Slip Mats—will help to reduce the risks of slipping on wet bathroom floors.
- Canes and Walks—provide extra support inside and outside the home.
- Seat Risers and Frames—when using the toilet becomes a chore.
- Commodes—when it’s no longer possible for them to use the toilet.
Although some mobility aids are expensive, there are always cheaper options. This is a huge industry and one that covers every room, every need, and most budgets. For example, options for the bathtub range from a simple step stool or chair to a walk-in tub, while options for the toilet range from a $20 riser to a fully wheeled shower chair with a commode.
Use Motion Sensors and Alarms
Motion sensors alert a caregiver or family member when an elderly person or patient has left their bed or room. These systems use everything from simple sensors placed on nightstands or near doors, to pressure pads under mattresses and near the bed.
Motion sensors are great for reducing falls, as they alert caregivers when the patient is somewhere they shouldn’t be.
GPS trackers can help, as well, especially if they are fitted with fall protection features. These devices work through landlines or cellular technology and connect to a device worn by the user.
If they wander off and go missing, it will alert a caregiver or family member. If they fall, they can press a button, speak with an operator, and get help.
These devices don’t necessarily prevent falls, but they can ensure that proper care is received when they happen.
Understand Medication Side Effects
Seniors are more likely to accept medication and take it without asking about side effects or even understanding the intended purpose. They have a deep-seated trust in their healthcare provider and don’t have an innate need to Google everything.
In doing so, however, they miss crucial information regarding potential side effects. For instance, many medications cause drowsiness and dizziness, and if consumed during the day these side effects may increase the risk of accidents.
Understand what side effects your medications produce and discuss options with your doctor. For instance, a medication may state that it needs to be taken once a day at 7 PM, as it’s assuming that the patient will be getting ready for bed within a few hours.
However, if you typically don’t go to bed until after midnight, these directions may not be targeted at you and you’ll want to discuss a later dose with your doctor. Some medications require that you abstain from drinking alcohol or taking certain OTC medications, while others interact with specific foods.
Pay Attention to the Lighting
Low lights make it hard for some elderly people to see where they are going. A younger family member or caregiver may have no issues and think that dimmed lights make for a calmer atmosphere, but it could be harder for them to navigate the house.
Go Easy on the Christmas Decorations
Christmas trees and lights are a great way to bring some Christmas cheer into the home. If you’re living with a patient who has dementia and a passion for the holidays, it can be a calming and nostalgic setting for them.
That said, lights mean wires and Christmas trees mean decorations, and once you add the ornaments and other adornments, the home becomes a tripping hazard.
Push everything into the corner, use wireless technology where possible, and minimize obstacles.
Why are Falls so Deadly?
For someone in their twenties or thirties, falls in the home typically result in a few scratches and a bruised ego. Unless they’re tumbling down the stairs, there’s nothing to worry about. Everyone under the age of 50 has stories of times they slipped, tripped, and fell in the home, only to jump straight back up again, brush it off, and get on with their life.
As a senior, however, it’s a different story entirely. Elderly bodies are frail—skin is thinner, bones are weaker, and they lack the muscle mass needed to withstand the blow.
Elderly fall victims may break arms or legs and find that they can’t get to their feet, which means they could remain on the floor for hours or days. They may lose consciousness or suffer a major cut or bruise.
One of the biggest concerns is that they will fracture their hip. Every year in the United States, over 300,000 people are hospitalized with fractured hips and the majority of these are seniors. Of those injured seniors, 21% won’t survive the year and many will need months of recovery time.
As scary as that figure is, it’s worth noting that it includes everyone over the age of 65, including those over the age of 90 with preexisting health conditions. In other words, while their broken hip may have played a role, they may have also died from complications relating to cancer, diabetes, and dementia.