Many people see falls as a natural consequence of aging. In fact, some seniors repeatedly fall at home without ever reporting it to their healthcare providers unless they become seriously injured.
This may leave you wondering, “If falls happen so often, why is fall prevention important? Why spend so much time worrying about something that seems inevitable?”
In reality, falls can be devastating for seniors. And even though falls in older adults are common, research shows that most falls could have been prevented.
Here’s why it’s so important to help seniors prevent falls and some tips and resources to help.
Why is fall prevention important for seniors?
Falls are the most common type of accident in people over 65 years old. In fact, over 30% of seniors over 65 fall each year. That percentage rises to around 40% of seniors aged 85 and above. In about half of these cases, seniors suffer falls more than once.
Whereas a younger adult or child might be able just to get back up, many of these falls result in serious injuries for seniors. Seniors can end up in the hospital or needing surgery for injuries such as:
Wrist or ankle fractures
Traumatic brain injury
Subdural hematoma (bleeding in the brain)
Even when falls don’t result in any significant injury, they can still affect your parent’s quality of life. Some seniors develop a fear of falling, which causes them to limit their activities. Over time this lack of activity leads to decreased strength, which actually leads to a higher risk of falls.
Many seniors aren’t able to recover sufficiently after a fall to go back to living independently. This results in them needing to move to a senior care facility earlier than expected.
12 tips to prevent senior falls
Now that you know why fall prevention is important for seniors, let’s look at some tips for keeping your senior parent safe.
General fall prevention tips
Streamline medications: Being on multiple medications or taking medicines that make them sleepy or light-headed is a major contributor to falls in the elderly. Your parent should regularly review all their medications with their doctor. Any that are no longer necessary should be stopped with the doctor’s supervision.
Help them stay active: Seniors can lose muscle mass with age which can increase the risk of falls. Help your parent stay active to maintain strength and balance.
Provide sensible footwear: Floppy slippers or shoes with smooth soles can lead to slips or stumbles. Help your parent to choose properly fitting footwear with sturdy, non-skid soles to prevent falls. This is also important if they are diabetic.
Remove trip hazards: Help your parent to take a look around the house and remove clutter, furniture, or cords that could be tripped over. Loose rugs should be removed or secured with double-sided tape.
Provide adequate lighting: A brightly lit home can help prevent falls. Assist your parent by providing:
Nightlights in bedrooms, halls, and bathrooms
Lamps within easy reach
Flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of a power outage
Glow-in-the-dark or illuminated light switch covers
Use assistive devices correctly: Walkers and cases can help your parent remain steady, but only if they’re used correctly. Ask a professional to help ensure your parent’s device is correctly sized, in good working order, and they’re using the correct technique.
Preventing falls in the bedroom
Provide a way to call for assistance: A phone, intercom device, or even a bell near the bedside can help your parent get assistance if they aren’t feeling well or need help getting out of bed.
Use a modified bed: An adjustable bed that raises or lowers and lifts the head of the bed could make it easy for your parent to get in and out of bed. Side rails provide a handle to grip and prevent rolling out of bed.
Decrease nighttime bathroom trips: Going to the bathroom at night is one of the most high-risk times for seniors. It’s dark, they may be sleepy, and they may be in a hurry. Providing a urinal or commode near the bed can help them avoid having to travel between rooms at night.
Preventing falls in the bathroom
Keep floors dry: It’s easy for floors to become damp after showers or with a leaking sink or toilet. Ensure floors are always dry to prevent slipping.
Install grab bars: Properly installed grab bars near the bath and shower will make it easier for your parent to keep their balance when moving around in the bathroom. Make sure that they are installed correctly to support your parent’s weight.
Use adaptive equipment: In addition to grab bars, adaptive equipment such as a raised toilet seat, shower bench, and handheld shower sprayer can help prevent fatigue or reaching that could result in a fall.
Fall prevention resources
You’re not alone when it comes to helping your senior parent stay safe from falls at home. There are healthcare and community resources available to help.
Medical research shows that home visits from an occupational therapist can help prevent falls among older adults who are at higher risk for falling. Your parent’s healthcare provider can provide a referral.
An occupational therapist can assess your parent’s home and help brainstorm solutions to any hazards uncovered. They can recommend safety equipment, modifications, or tools. They can also teach your parent to properly use them, helping minimize falls and maintain independence.
If your parent struggles with balance or avoids physical activity because they are afraid of falling, ask their healthcare provider for a referral to physical therapy.
A physical therapist can create a customized exercise program that helps your parent improve their balance, flexibility, and muscle strength. This can help them avoid falls at home.
Evidence-based fall prevention programs
The Older Americans Act, originally passed in 1965, provides funding for supportive programs for adults over the age of 60 years. One of their initiatives has been to develop evidence-based programs to help prevent falls at home.
Contact your parent’s local Council on Aging to see what programs are available in your area. Programs vary in length and the way they are delivered, but most include elements of education, exercises, and support for seniors.
Tai chi, a Chinese martial art, is an excellent exercise choice for older adults. The practice involves slow, rhythmic movements, including rotation of the trunk, shifting weight, and coordination. These are all exercises that may help prevent falls. Studies show that it even improves postural stability better than other exercises. Many communities have free or low-cost lessons available.