You feel like a fool when it happens, but it happens. You miss a step. You trip on an uneven sidewalk. You slip on ice. Maybe you’re lucky and end up with just a bruise. But as we age, the risks of complications from falls increase significantly.
In fact, among older adults, falls are one of the most prevalent causes of injury and hospitalization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls every year, all too often incurring serious trauma such as hip fractures and head injuries, worsened health and, sometimes, death.
Older Adults at Greatest Risk of Falls and Injuries
In 2010 alone, the CDC reports, 2.3 million older adults were treated in ERs for nonfatal falls, and nearly a quarter of those individuals were hospitalized for treatment. The direct medical cost? A staggering $30 billion.
Adding to the mix, as we age, falls can lead to anxiety, limited mobility and reduced fitness, which increases the risk of more falls. Diseases like Parkinson’s that hinder mobility, loss of flexibility to arthritis, failing sight, weakness due to a heart condition, dizziness caused by medications and more—all make falls and resulting injury more likely.
The good news: There are many steps you can take for your loved one to reduce the risk of falls at home.
What Makes a Fall More Likely
It’s impossible to predict every circumstance that could cause a fall, but for older adults, these activities are most risky:
- Walking down stairs
- Getting up too suddenly from a bed or chair
- Reaching for overhead objects
- Climbing on chairs, step-stools or ladders
- Getting in or out of a bathtub or shower
- Walking outside in wet or slippery weather
What You Can to Do Prevent Falls
There are a variety of ways you can make your loved one’s home safer. Here is a check-list to help you assess his or her living space and take some basic steps to reduce the risk of falls:
Floors and Hallways
- Choose wall-to-wall carpeting with a short, dense pile.
- Secure area rugs with double-sided carpet tape.
- Do not wax floors. There are many non-skid, attractive, no-wax floorings available.
- Check door thresholds to be sure they are even with the floor and make necessary repairs.
- Don’t leave items lying around on the floor where someone might trip.
- Make sure that hallways provide easy entry and exit from the home.
- Arrange furniture so your loved one can easily move through and around the room, using assistive devices as needed.
- Ensure that your loved one has a stable chair with armrests, to facilitate sitting and standing.
- Provide a bed that is a comfortable height for getting up and sitting to lie down.
- Use good lighting, including stable lamps with shades that reduce glare. Bright, evenly distributed light is best.
- Provide night lights in bathrooms and hallways.
- Check light switches and electrical outlets for ease of reach and use.
- Attach handrails to either side of staircases at the right height for your loved one to grasp.
- Keep steps in good repair—even, solid, with carpeting firmly attached.
- Remove slippery area rugs from the top and bottom of stairs. If this is not possible, use double-stick tape to secure them in place.
- For non-carpeted stairs, use non-skid contrasting tape, rubber stair treads or a coated, skid-resistant surface treatment.
- For carpeted stairs, be sure to choose a pattern that makes it easy to distinguish where a step begins and ends.
- Use good lighting with on-off switches at the stop and bottom of staircases—a 60-watt bulb, at least.
- Clear steps of all objects.
- Provide a sturdy step-stool, ideally one with handrails. Toss any broken step-stools or ladders.
- Place an easy-to-locate tool in the kitchen for reaching and gripping light-weight objects on high shelves. Many “reachers” are available from adaptive equipment suppliers, including the resources, below.
- Clean any floor spills immediately.
- Install at least two grab bars in the tub or shower stall.
- Use non-slip rubber bathmats or strips in the bath.
- Fix any leaky plumbing and clean any water spills as soon as possible.
- Attach bathroom rugs with double-sided carpet tape.
- Install a raised toilet seat with handles, as needed.
- Ensure good lighting for easy entrance and exit from the home at night.
- Install handrails on any outdoor stairs or steps.
- Single steps can be easily missed. Make sure there is adequate hand support and a clear demarcation between the step and walkway.
- Clear all snow, and be sure to salt and sand steps, walkways and driveways.
- Keep all outdoor steps, walks and decks free of debris that could cause accidents.
- Repair cracked or uneven pavement on walks and driveways.
- Maintain trees and shrubs to keep walkways clear; consult with a landscaper or arborist to remove trees whose roots cause walks or driveways to buckle.
- Clean up any oil or grease spills in the garage or on the driveway.
There are many excellent online resources for adaptive equipment that can help to reduce the risk of falls, including a wide variety of canes and walkers, wall grab bars, railings, reachers, step-stools and much more. Here are two of our favorite sites, to get you started:
A registered and licensed occupational therapist and certified geriatric care manager with Deborah Fins Associates, Susan Ritz works with elders and their families and provides administrative support to our practice. Her professional training in occupational therapy informs her detailed functional assessments and home safety evaluations, and she has extensive experience working with clients who have Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological disorders.
Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in geriatric care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.