Falls are a serious risk for any senior. Did you know that falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans?¹ Many older adults think that it won’t happen to them. However, the statistics paint a far more sobering story.
According to the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for fall-related injuries every 11 seconds, while an older adult dies due to fall-related injuries every 19 minutes.²
Falls often come as a shock, both to seniors and to their loved ones. The aftermath of a fall seriously impacts a senior’s life, and they may struggle to live independently following a fall. However, there are several steps seniors and caregivers alike can take to reduce the risk of falls.
Environmental Risks and Common Fall Locations
Environmental risks are a major contributing factor when it comes to falls. Environmental risks include:
- Slippery floors that make it all too easy to slip.
- Slippery or wet surfaces such as in the bathroom or kitchen that make it hard to steady oneself.
- Uneven floors, raised transition strips between rooms, rug edges or bunched up carpets that make it harder to find safe footing.
- Steep or narrow staircases or uneven porch or deck steps.
- Clutter, especially in halls or on regular walking routes such as from living room to kitchen, or bedroom to bathroom.
- Poor lighting that makes it harder to see steps, uneven surfaces, or objects.
The most common fall locations are the bathroom and the kitchen. This is unsurprising, given that slippery surfaces and wet floors are common in both.
Being alert to potential contributing factors and remedying them is an easy, practical way to reduce fall risks.
Other Factors That Increase Fall Risks
As well as environmental factors there are several other factors that make a fall more likely:
- Previous falls. Seniors who have fallen previously are more likely to fall again and in fact two thirds of those who fall will fall again within six months.
- Increasing age. The risk of falls increases with age, and those age 75 and over are four to five times more likely to need admission to long-term care after a fall than those aged 65 – 74.
- Living alone. Seniors who live alone are often more independent, but the lack of immediate support can make a fall more likely, and getting help more difficult.
- Side effects of medication. Some medications cause dizziness, weakness, balance problems or numbness, which can all contribute to a fall.
- Vision problems. As we age, less light reaches the retina of the eye, causing edges to become blurry and making obstacles and edges harder to see.
- Health problems. Giddiness, weakness, numbness, absent mindedness, and sudden changes in blood pressure or blood sugar can all affect balance or grip and make a fall more likely.
Understanding the factors that increase fall risks is an important first step in mitigating those risks and making the home a safer place.
Three Simple Steps To Reduce The Risk Of Falls
Here are three simple steps seniors and caregivers can take to reduce the risk of falls.
1. Invest in home safety accessories that make it easier to get around, and reduce some fall risk factors. There are many home safety accessories on the market today that make life safer for seniors:
- Grab bars on steps and in bathrooms
- Rubber backed rugs and bath mats to prevent slips
- Contrast stripes on stair edges
- A second handrail on staircases, so seniors can hold on to both sides
- A shower chair and handheld shower head to make bathing safer
2. Deal with potential home hazards. Assess the house and look for any potential hazards, then take steps to fix them. For example:
- Ensure there is good lighting throughout the home and on the porch
- Check that porches, paths, and front and back steps are even
- Put frequently used items within reach so there is no need to stretch or try to get onto a chair or step stool
- Clear away clutter and keep the space tidy
- Place bedroom lights within arm’s length of the bed
3. Enlist the help of health professionals:
- Regular eye, medical, and medication checks will reduce risks from failing eyesight, health issues such as balance or cognitive impairment, or from medication side effects.
- Seniors can also work with a physiotherapist on strength and balance exercises, or work with an occupational therapist on the best way to manage things at home.
Reducing fall risks is a team effort between seniors, caregivers, and medical professionals.
Fall Detection – Fast Action Makes All The Difference
The speed with which help arrives after a fall makes a huge difference to the quality of life a senior can expect going forward. Statistics show that 62% of seniors who don’t get help within an hour of falling will struggle to live independently afterwards.
Many seniors make use of home medical alert systems so they can press a button and call for help. Fall detection is an add-on to medical alert systems. Fall detection units are worn as a bracelet or pendant. They track the wearer’s movement, speed and body position, and put in a call to the help center if a fall is automatically detected. Fall detection technology is not perfect (yet) and some falls do go undetected, however, better to be proactive than not when it comes to this readily available feature.
- Some medical alert companies don’t offer any kind of fall detection, we recommend seniors look for systems with fall detection options. Others offer fall detection as a paid upgrade to their existing service.
- Other personal emergency response companies offer fall detection as a separate pendant, which is a little bit more unwieldy as users have to wear both pendants.
- It’s also a good idea to check out the monitoring features of a system before buying. Some systems offer alert monitoring so caregivers can see when alerts happen.
We recommend purchasing a medical alert option with a waterproof pendant – as most falls happen in the bathroom, it’s important that the device isn’t removed for bathing.
Falls are not an inevitable part of aging. With awareness, care, planning and the use of a fall detection system, it’s possible to reduce fall risks and make sure help arrives faster in the event that a fall does happen. We encourage you and your loved ones to look around, reduce hazards, and enlist help where needed to reduce the risk of falls and promote continued independent living.
1, 2 – NCOA