Anyone with elderly parents worries about them falling and injuring themselves, and rightly so. The consequences of a fall can be devastating, even resulting in death.
According to the National Safety Council, falls are the leading cause of accidental injury and death for the elderly, and with 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day, the slip, trip, and fall “problem” will soon become an epidemic…losspreventionmedia.com
What To Do When Elderly Keep Falling
The following 9 tips are preventive measures that should be taken to help keep elderly individuals from falling.
- Be aware of medication side effects.
- Make sure clothing and shoes fit properly.
- Get rid of clutter.
- Use safety devices throughout the house.
- Make sure there is plenty of light.
- Make steps and floors as non slip as possible.
- Don’t forget to make the outdoors safe too.
- Be aware of risk factors of certain diseases.
- Add fall prevention exercises to their daily routine.
Knowing what your senior loved one’s condition is and what problems he/she is having will help you to be pro-active in doing all that you can do to make falls as preventable as possible.
After all, no one wants to have to deal with hip fractures, possible head injuries or other issues that could be the end result of a fall. So, let’s work on reducing as many chances of slips and falls as possible by creating a safe environment in the home.
1. Be Aware Of Medication Side Effects
Older adults who are on medications (especially prescription medications) are at greater risks of falling and injuring themselves.
The list of medications and supplements that an older person takes can in fact contribute to their risk of falling. It’s one of the most common causes of slips and falls.
The best thing to do is to consult with your doctor by bringing them the list of medicines (and any supplements) so that they can alert you to the fall risk potential of what they are taking.
The solution may be as simple as not standing up for 30 minutes after taking a specific medication.
2. Use Proper Fitting Clothing And Shoes
Yes, it may sound silly, but the clothing an elderly adult wears, including their shoes can be fall hazards.
- Loose clothing that may get entangled must be avoided (scarves, long sweaters, pants that are too long, etc.).
- Loose shoes like some slippers are also to be avoided as well. But know that there are certain slippers that can be deemed proper footwear and are therefore safer.
- And the number one safety tip I can give you about clothing is ALWAYS WEAR SHOES or at the very least – wear grip socks. Anything with slip-resistant soles that are not loose in the back.
When I was practicing OT (Occupational Therapy) – I treated literally hundreds of patients who had suffered either a broken bone or a severe head injury simply because they were walking around their home without shoes and only wearing socks or stockings!
Many of them would tell me that the didn’t think they had slippery floors.
They slipped and fell and that was that. Surgery, months of rehab (if they could even get to rehab) and then many more months of home health. A good percentage of those elderly adults never returned to independent living.
3. Organize The Home And Remove Clutter
It’s been my experience (not just with patients but with family as well) that seniors tend to have too many items in their homes and often have furniture that is too large for the spaces they are in.
Both of these issues lead to a decreased amount of space for walking and lots of trip hazards which leads to an increased risk for falling.
This becomes even more of a problem if your senior loved one is using a cane, quad cane or walker.
As difficult as it may be, my tip to you is to work with your elderly parent or loved one to declutter the living spaces as much as possible. In the long run, the loss of a few items in the house is worth it to make their home a safer place for them.
Another factor involving organization is the placement of items used daily.
Keeping these items at easy reach is an often overlooked tip on minimizing fall risks. And I’m not talking about just keeping the remote control near the recliner.
Following are some tips on how organizing can help to reduce fall risks:
- Keep kitchen items like glasses, dishes, pots and pans, etc. within easy reach so that the elderly person does not have to reach over the height of their shoulder or under reach below the height of their hip.
- Keep items in the closet within easy reach as well. Lower hanging racks if needed. Removing excess clothing is extremely important. A closet organizer system like the John Louis Home from Amazon pictured here can be customized to fit the height and needs of your senior loved one and their closet.
- Any items on a bedside nightstand should be easily accessible. Falls often occur when someone is over reaching or twisting to reach for something from the bed.
- The use of Alexa or Google Home to turn on and off lights is helpful as well. I know my 99 year old mom-in-law loves her Alexa. She doesn’t have to let go of her walker to turn on light switches when she enters a room, she just asks Alexa to do it. She doesn’t have to reach up towards the light from her bed to turn it off, she just asks Alexa to do it.
- Declutter the spaces in the home. Removing obstacles that anyone can trip over (like loose cords) or bump into is extremely important.
- Removing rugs and floor mats is also a very easy thing to do (although in my experience, most elderly seem to keep a large collection of rugs scattered throughout the home and removing them can trigger an argument!).
- Clean up a wet floor immediately to avoid slipping on it.
- “Keep flashlights throughout your home in case there is ever a power outage, but keep the batteries in a zip lock bag near the flashlight. Keeping the batteries out of the flashlight when not in use will prevent any corrosion from occurring.” – 1stclassmed.com
4. Use Assistive Devices Throughout The House
Grab bars and handrails are not just for bathrooms. Use them throughout the house as needed. In the kitchen, into and out of the front door, in the bedroom, by the recliner, down the hallway, etc.
If the fall risk for your senior loved one is high and they get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom I would recommend the use of a bedside commode.
I know it may be met with some resistance and if it is then I would recommend a bed alarm so that at least someone else in the household can be alerted that they are getting up from the bed.
If an older adult needs a bit of help getting into and out of bed, consider installing bed rails. These can also be used if they tend to try to get out of bed (when they are unable to walk without supervision).
A medical alert system of course is a very important device. It’s not just for use in case they do fall, it can be used if they aren’t feeling well, if there’s a fire or other emergency.
We recommend the LifeFone system which is inexpensive and has no monthly contract.
But there are others to be considered as well – check out our list of recommended medical alert devices.
5. Improve Lighting Throughout The Living Areas
Lights are a device most seniors and caregivers don’t think about when it comes to fall prevention. Adequate lighting can be such an inexpensive and easy way to make it safer, for everyone and to help prevent falls.
Some of the best lighting are overhead lights, especially can lights in the ceiling. Depending on the bulbs used they can put out a lot of light.
I like to use a combination of both because there can never be too many lights! Place them everywhere, but especially in those areas that are used at night time. For example, the path from the bed to the bathroom, the pathway to and from the kitchen, etc.
I would also recommend using Alexa for your lighting as well. You can use Alexa enabled smart plugs to set up your home lights so that they turn on at specific times. And yes, you can set up Alexa smart lights to use for your overhead lights as well. Just use Alexa enabled smart LED lightbulbs like this one.
6. Make Steps And Floors As Non Slip As Possible
These days, there are multiple products that you can use to help you make your walking surface and stairs slip resistant which would help you to reduce the risk of slips and falls in your home.
You don’t necessarily have to put in new floors to avoid slippery surfaces. There are products that can be applied onto ceramic tile, terrazo, porcelain, wood, vinyl and other types of floors that can help to make them slip resistant.
Of course, we always recommend to remove anything on the floor that may cause you to trip or slip such as rugs, doorway thresholds that are not flushed to the floor, electrical cords that are not stapled to the molding or tucked under furniture, etc.
7. Make the Outdoor Areas Safer Too
It’s important of course to make the indoors as safe as possible but you shouldn’t forget the outdoor areas where it’s more likely to find an area with an uneven surface.
This includes the walkway to the front and side doors. The driveway, patio, porch, yard, etc.
Some tips on making your outdoor space safer include:
- The walkways outdoors should be flat surfaces, as smooth as possible – especially if the older adult is using a walker.
- All areas must be very well lighted. If possible, avoid shadows which can make it difficult for some to see clearly.
- Outdoor steps should have railings and of course, stair treads are important too.
8. High Risk Illnesses
If your elderly parent is dealing from Parkinsons or has suffered a stroke – then their risk of falling is very high. The best way to protect them is to implement as many fall prevention measures as possible in as many problem areas throughout the house.
Another common illness among seniors is COPD which increases your fall risk because of the low levels of oxygen in the blood due to the disease.
Usually, in these instances, all precautions must be taken 100% of the time. Which means that they should not be mobile without someone by their side and I personally would recommend to include the use of an assistive device such as a walker or a cane of some type.
Research has identified many conditions that contribute to falling. These are called risk factors. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls. They include:
- Lower body weakness
- Vitamin D deficiency (that is, not enough vitamin D in your system)
- Difficulties with walking and balance
- Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet.
- Vision problems
- Foot pain or poor footwear
- Home hazards or dangers such as
- broken or uneven steps, and
- throw rugs or clutter that can be tripped over.
Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Knowing your senior loved one’s risk factors and then properly preparing to circumvent instances that could contribute to a fall can go a long way in helping to prevent them from falling.
9. Add Fall Prevention Exercises To The Daily Routine
As we age, we lose muscle mass. In fact, according to a review of prevalence and intervention by Cruz-Jentoft, et. al., as many as 1 in 3 elderly adults have sarcopenia, which is defined as the decline of skeletal muscle tissue with age.
In another study done by Watson, it was reported that
Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life, evidence suggests that skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of mass being lost by the 8th decade of life. Given that muscle mass accounts for up to 60% of body mass, pathological changes to this important metabolically active tissue can have profound consequences on the older adult.National Institutes of Health
So, how can we reverse – or at least delay – the affects of sarcopenia and the loss of muscle mass?
Fall prevention exercises, of course!
One type of physical activity you may want to consider is Tai Chi. There are many studies that show it’s a very beneficial type of exercise to help improve balance in older adults.
In a study involving 670 seniors age 70 years and older – falls amongst the group was reduced by 58% compared to stretching and other more conventional exercises.
These exercises can be done at home (no gym needed) and they will help reduce your senior’s fall risk by strengthening the core muscles that keep them balanced.
Note: Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program and initially work with an occupational therapist or a physical therapist to ensure you are doing the exercises correctly.
I think it’s easier when you can visualize what to do, so here is a video of the Top 10 Balance Exercises For Seniors At Home from the “Famous” Physical Therapists, Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck.
What To Do If An Elderly Person Falls Down
If your elderly loved one has fallen, the very first thing to do is to stay calm! Then follow these instructions…
- If the person on the floor is unconscious or seems incoherent – immediately call 911.
- If they are in obvious pain or severe injury – immediately call 911.
- Look for visible injuries such as cuts, scrapes, etc. Tend to them if needed and if you are able to.
- If there does not seem to be any obvious severe injury – and you are able to assist them to get up from the floor – read our instructions on how to do that as safely as possible.
- If you are not able to get them up off the floor – contact someone to help you or call 911.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do falls affect older people?
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) – “Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.” They list many other statistics but knowing that falls are the Number 1 reason seniors suffer traumatic injuries is enough to understand the importance of fall prevention.
What is the most common cause of falls in the elderly?
Per Healthdirect.gov.au, the most common reasons for accidental falls amongst elders are:
1. floors that are wet or recently polished
2. poor lighting
3. loose rugs or carpets
4. over reaching for objects in upper or lower cabinets
Where do most falls occur for the elderly?
Fall Prevention Center of Excellence reports that 55% of injuries related to falls in seniors occurred inside the house. Of those numbers, 10% fell in hallways, 13% fell in bathrooms, 19% fell in kitchens, 30% fell in bedrooms and 31% fell in their living rooms.