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For the elderly and for those suffering from impaired mobility, the thought of a fall at home is frightening. The thought of losing their independence due to broken bones, head injuries or a fractured hip can be extremely worrying.
Falls among the elderly are unfortunately extremely common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 over 65’s in the US will suffer a fall each year, and 3 million are treated every year at hospital for fall related injuries.
Trips and falls can not only cause serious injuries but they can also impact someone’s emotional wellbeing and knock their confidence. Implementing proper fall prevention mechanisms at home can not only allow a senior to live safer but it can also help them to live more independently for longer.
In this guide, we will cover practical advice that you can easily implement at home to avoid the risk of falls. We will also cover different fall monitoring systems and we’ll explain what to do in case of any slips or falls at home.
Common Causes of Falls?
One in every four Americans over 65 suffers a fall every year. This is an alarming statistic. Common factors that can cause slips and falls among seniors include:
Impaired Mobility: Muscle weakness caused by age or due to conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause an individual to suffer with balance issues making them vulnerable to accidental slips and falls. Other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis that causes joint pain, impairs muscle strength and causes instability can also increase the probability of falls (source).
Pre-Existing Health Conditions: Long-term and chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease can all contribute to the risk of falls. Low blood pressure for example can cause a person to become confused as well as dizzy when they get up suddenly.
Impaired Vision: Our eye-sight can worsen as we age. For users with visual impairments, such as glaucoma or cataracts, their vision may become blurry which can result in them tripping over hazards found around the home.
Not Eating Well: Eating well and having a balanced diet is crucial. Alzheimer and dementia sufferers however can often forget to eat and drink causing them to feel lethargic and weak and unstable when walking.
Side-Effects of Medication: Certain medications or combining medications together can sometimes cause a person to experience dizziness or feel drowsy. Sleeping pills for example can cause a person to feel drowsy and confused when they wake-up in the morning, making them unsteady on their feet when they get out of bed.
Effects of a Fall
The effects of a fall can be wide-ranging and can include such things as:
Broken Bones and Hip Fractures: Bone density decreases as we age. Broken and fractured wrists, forearms, legs and ankles and hips are all common injuries that can be sustained by seniors from slips and falls. Just a 10% loss of bone density can result in a 2.5 times greater risk of suffering a hip fracture (source). Conditions such as osteoporosis can make matters worse. In the US alone, 300,000 over 65’s are hospitalized every year for hip fractures suffered after a fall (source).
Head and Brain Injuries: Falls can result in serious head trauma injuries. The leading cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are related to falls (source). Many of the 25,000 deaths in the over 65’s as a result of these falls were due to head injuries (source).
Psychological Impact: Many who have suffered a fall will lose their confidence even if they have not sustained any serious injuries. They may become more reclusive, staying at home and failing to go out as much. Their mental wellbeing may be affected as they’re meeting and interacting with less people so the risk of depression and feeling of helplessness can increase. Reduced physical activity can also accelerate the deterioration of muscle strength and bone density which can result in the increase of falls.
Loss of Independence: Recovering from a hip fracture can often be a lengthy process and this can impact a senior’s life considerably and importantly their independence. For those who live alone, they may need extra care and support to help them recover which can be costly. This may involve employing a live-in carer or in more extreme cases they may need to move into assisted care.
How to Avoid Falls at Home
While falls can often be dangerous in particular for elders, there are a number of ways in which these can be prevented. Adjustments that can be made to help minimize these falls and allow users to live independently at home for longer. This includes making home modifications as well as lifestyle changes and eating healthily such as the following:
Eliminate Potential Trip Hazards
Environmental hazards found around the home can substantially increase the risk of trips and falls. It is important to try to eliminate these wherever possible.
Conduct an assessment to identify any hazards that could prove dangerous and aim to rectify these.
Key things to consider include:
- Ensure that all loose wiring such as electrical and telephone cords are tucked away.
- Clear the floor of any clutter.
- Use non-slip backing on any loose carpets or rugs. Only use non-slip mats in the bathroom and use non-slip adhesive strips in the bathtub to avoid slipping while washing.
- Inadequate lighting can conceal potential trip hazards. Ensure therefore key areas in the home are properly illuminated such as in the bathroom, bedroom, living room, hallways and stairways. Install motion-activated lights that only come when they are needed.
- Install handrails on staircases, hallways and on the porch stairs.
- Keep the floor dry and clean up immediately after any spills.
- If there are thresholds in the home that you may struggle with, use a threshold ramp. This type of ramp allows users with impaired mobility to easily traverse over smaller thresholds such as doorframe sills and uneven surfaces.
Install Assistive Devices
There are a wide range of assistive devices that can allow users with impaired mobility to more easily manoeuvre around the home safely and reduce the risk of falls.
These include assistive devices such as:
- Grab Rails: 75 percent of falls in the over 65’s occur in the bathroom (source). Safety grab rails are useful as they provide users with greater stability when moving around the bathroom and they can help to reduce any nasty falls. Install grab rails in key areas of the bathroom including in the shower/bathtub, next to washbasin and toilet.
- Raised Toilet Seat: If the user struggles to sit and stand from a toilet maybe due to reduced lower mobility or due to balance issues, they may benefit from using a raised toilet seat. They are simple to install and it helps to raise the height of the toilet, allowing them to sit down and stand up more easily.
- Shower/Bath Chair: A shower or bath chair is ideal for anyone that has balance issues or is unsteady on their feet. They can make bathing or showering safer allowing the person to sit down while they wash and helping to reduce the risk of slips and falls.
- Power Lift Recline: A powered lift chair recliner can slowly lift a user from a seated to an almost vertical position allowing them to stand up more easily without requiring additional assistance to get out of the chair.
- Bed Grab Rails: A bed grab rail can provide users with additional support and balance when getting into and out of bed.
- Hand Grip Reacher: These simple but effective devices can make picking up items from the floor and from hard to reach places much easier. It acts as an extension to your arm allowing you to grab items without needing to bend down or put undue stress on your limbs.
- Bed Risers: For wheelchair users, consider investing in some bed risers. These fit under the bed legs and help raise the height of the bed and allows the user to more easily get in and out of bed without having to struggle.
Look After Your Feet
Did you know that the average person in their lifetime walks 100,000 miles and that 75% of the US population will experience foot problems at one time or another in their lives (source)?
Taking care of your feet can often be overlooked but it is essential. Foot problems such as corns, calluses, bunions, fungal infections and ingrowing toenails can impair walking, which may cause the person to be unsteady on their feet.
Ensure you take proper care of your feet, get your toenails trimmed regularly and check for any obvious foot problems. If you notice any issues see a podiatrist.
Stay Active and Eat Well
Muscle strength and bone density deteriorates as we age, this can increase the risk of falls in the elder population.
Studies as shown that inactivity in seniors can accelerate the risk of this deterioration. It appears that the old saying, if you don’t use it, you lose it is particularly true in this case. This is why it is important to remain as active as possible as we grow older.
Regular exercise can not only increase our physical and mental wellbeing, but it can also improve muscle strength, bone density, balance, coordination and reaction times and thus it can prevent the risk of falls. Performing balance and strength exercises on a regular basis can be an effective way of building muscle strength as well as improving coordination.
If you are looking for a convenient way to exercise from home, consider fitness aids such as a recumbent bike, elliptical machine, or vibration plate. These exercise aids offer a low-impact form of exercise and are easier on the joints, therefore helping to minimize the strain on your body as you work out.
Performing simple activities regularly such as walking, dancing and swimming can prove beneficial. Gentle exercise such as Tai Chi that focuses on slow movements is also particularly suited to seniors and studies have shown it can potentially benefit anyone suffering with osteoarthritis (source) and it can help to maintain bone density (source).
Eating well is also particularly important for bone health. Eat a balanced diet and consume calcium rich foods such as dairy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts such as almonds etc.
Vitamin D is key as it helps the body absorb calcium. If the user is unable to get out regularly, maybe due to being housebound and therefore is not exposed to the sun very often, they may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement to boost their levels (source).
If you suspect your calcium or vitamin D levels are low always consult a doctor before taking any supplements.
Get Your Eyesight and Hearing Checked Regularly
Not only does bone density and muscle strength deteriorate as we age but so does our hearing and eyesight.
Is your vision is impaired, you may fail to spot potential trip hazards. Cataracts for example, can cause your sight to become blurred.
It is important that you regularly have an eye-test to ensure that you’re using the right prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses. Poor hearing can also impact your balance and coordination and increase the likelihood of falls. Always pay a visit to your optician and audiologist at least once a year.
Take Things Slowly
Running to reach the bathroom or rushing to answer the door can increase the risk of falls especially if the user suffers from impaired mobility or balance issues. It’s important to take things slowly and avoid any fast movements especially when you’re on your feet.
Here are some important points to consider:
- If you regularly need to use the toilet at night, consider using a commode in the bedroom particularly if you have a weak bladder or you suffer from incontinence.
- When waking up, don’t get up straightway, take at least 5-10 minutes to come to. If you get up straightaway, you may still be drowsy and feel lightheaded which could increase the risk of a fall. This is the same case after eating, take things slowly and take some time before standing up.
- If you often struggle to get to the front door in time when someone calls, consider installing a smart doorbell. These useful devices will allow you to see who is at the door via your smartphone or tablet without having to get up meaning you’ll never need to rush to answer the door again. Check out our article that covers other useful smart home devices for seniors.
Wear Suitable Footwear and Clothing
Wearing inappropriate footwear and clothing can increase the risk of falls. Wear shoes that are supportive and comfortable and that have non-slip soles around the home.
Avoid walking in bare feet or in just socks as you’re more likely to slip on tiled and wooden floors.
Wearing clothes that drag on the floor can also prove dangerous as they can easily be trodden on or get caught in furniture. Wear properly fitted clothing and try to avoid any loose fitting skirts or trousers that are too long.
Pay a Visit to Your Doctor
Attending regular check-ups with your doctor is imperative. If you’re taking medication on an on-going basis, it should be reviewed regularly to determine that you’re still taking the right dosage and whether it is still strictly necessary or not.
If you’ve been prescribed medication, understand what the possible side-effects and the interactions with other medications are. For example, can it make you sleepy or dizzy? These can affect your balance and increase the risk falls so it’s important to be aware of these. Check also if you are allowed to drink alcohol with any medication that you’re taking.
If you’ve noticed any differences in your health recently, let your doctor know so that any underling conditions can be ruled out. Are you experiencing shortness of breath, do you feel faint when you’re on your feet, are you suffering from muscle weakness?
Use Mobility Aids
The use of mobility aids such as a walking cane, walker or rollator can provide additional support and assist with balancing for anyone that suffers with reduced mobility. They can help to reduce the strain on the legs and they allow individuals to carry out their day-to-day activities more safely.
For users that lack upper body strength, a rollator will be recommended over a walker.
Walking canes come in a variety of different styles. If the person is particularly unsteady on their feet, consider a tetrapod cane that has a four prong base over a traditional single-point cane as these will offer greater support.
How to Deal with a Fall (If you’re Able to Get-Up)?
- Keep calm and ascertain whether you have sustained any serious injuries in the fall.
- If you have suffered no injuries or if they are only minor, slowly roll onto your side. Take your time as you may still be in shock after the fall.
- Now get onto your hands and knees so that you’re in the crawling position.
- Crawl to a stable object such as a sturdy chair, bed, seat, table or stool.
- Place your hands onto the object and support yourself as you steady yourself as you slowly get back onto your feet. Always try to stand with your strongest leg first.
- Take a seat and rest until you have fully recovered.
Even if you have not sustained any visible injuries after a fall, it is recommended that you always see your doctor so you can be properly examined.
How to Deal with a Fall (If you’re Unable to Get-Up)?
If someone is with you:
- Keep the person calm and ascertain their injuries.
- Try to get them as comfortable as possible. Place a cushion or pillow under their head and cover them with a blanket so they still warm.
- Call 911 and await for the emergency services.
If you’re alone:
- Keep calm and try to compose yourself.
- If you have a cell phone on you, call someone for help otherwise call 911. Otherwise, slowly crawl to the nearest telephone to get help.
- Try to stay as comfortable as possible while you await for the emergency services.
Wearing hip protectors can help to reduce the risk of hip fractures during a fall. They are particularly beneficial for users with reduced bone density, such as those suffering from osteoporosis.
Hip protectors consist of padding that fit into specially designed underwear and cushion any impact in the hip area during a fall. There are a wide variety of styles and sizes available for both males and females.
Best Technology In Case of Falls
Getting help quickly after a fall is vital, especially if the user is unable to get up. If however your loved one lives alone, it can be a worry for both you and the individual.
Fortunately, there are a wide range of monitoring systems such as medical alert alarms and other monitoring sensors that can help in these situations allowing them to request help in case they are unable to get up after a fall. These include:
Medical Alert Alarms
These devices are usually wearable and consist either of a necklace, watch or bracelet that is worn by the user. If the user suffers a fall and is unable to get-up, they simply need to press a button on the device to raise the alarm. Once the response centre receives the alert, they will call out the emergency services, relative, carer or preferred contact.
Depending on the medical alert system, some may be fitted with fall detection sensors that automatically senses when a fall has occurred and alerting the response centre automatically. Some systems are also fitted with a GPS which can pinpoint where the user is located.
Chair or Bed Sensors
This consists of a pressure mat that is placed under a mattress or chair and will alert someone if they have not returned within a set period of time. Instead of the alert going to a response centre, the alert will be transmitted to the carer’s receiver. These devices are ideally suited for anyone that has a live-in carer or for anyone that does not live alone.
You may also want to consider fitting a bedside fall mat. While it won’t prevent the person from falling out of bed, it will cushion the impact of a fall, therefore, helping to reduce the risk of serious injuries.
Smart Home Camera
A good way to keep an eye on your loved ones is to install a smart home camera. They allow you to view them remotely when they’re at home via a smartphone, tablet or PC so you check-up on them throughout the day to make sure they’re ok.
Some smart cameras are fitted with motion-detection technology which starts recording once it detects any type of movement. These allow you to keep track of what your loved ones are doing around the house and where they are located so you can quickly spot if there are any emergencies.
The smart cameras from Wyze is easy to set-up and it is economically priced.