How to Prevent Falls at Home as you Age in Place
- Millions of older adults, ages 65 and older, fall each year.
- Fall prevention strategies such as securing rugs, moving furniture, and using nonslip mats in the bathroom can decrease the risk of falling.
- Staying physically active, reviewing medications that may increase the risk of falls, wearing a medical alert system with fall detection, and getting your eyes checked can help you age in place safely.
- Home safety checklists are an excellent tool to help you identify fall hazards in your home.
Getting older changes the way many seniors and their loved ones prioritize home safety, with fall prevention often topping the list.
"A fall is often often a seminal event for an older adult leading to an increased risk of life-threatening conditions such as a subdural hematoma or bone fracture and a decline in function and independence," says Liron Sinvani, MD, director of the geriatrics hospitalist service at Northwell Health and associate professor of medicine at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in the New York City area.
And when you consider that one out of four older adults experiences a fall each year, creating a home environment that reduces the risk of falls can improve your quality of life and increase the likelihood that you're able to age in place.
Read on to learn the risk factors that make falls more likely to occur, fall prevention tips, and how home safety modifications can help you stay comfortable and independent in your home for many years to come.
Risk factors that increase falls in older adults
Older adults are more vulnerable to factors that can lead to falls. Moreover, most falls happen as a result of multiple risk factors. Some of the more common risk factors that increase falls include:
- Impairments in vision and hearing
- Loss of cognitive functioning
- Issues with balance and gait
- Muscle weaknesses/decreased lower body strength
- Medications that increase dizziness and affect balance
- Improper footwear or issues with feet
- Home hazards like loose rugs, cords, and slippery floors
- Medical conditions like osteoarthritis, stroke, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease, or circulation issues
- Uneven ground and broken or loose steps
Fortunately, fall-proofing your home can help reduce the risk of falls, according to the National Institute on Aging.
How to prevent falls
Getting older is the primary risk factor that contributes to falling. That said, you can prevent falls by improving your overall health and targeting at-home interventions designed to improve home safety. Here are six ways to get started.
Improve overall strength and balance
Review medications with your doctor
Ask your doctor if any medications you're taking, both prescription and non-prescription, can increase the risk of dizziness or loss of balance. And if possible, lower the dose or switch to a different drug that may reduce these risks.
"There are many medications, including over-the-counter, that can inadvertently lead to falls. For example, over-the-counter cold and sleep medications may contain diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which can increase falls in older adults," says Dr. Sinvani.
This is also an excellent time to ask about taking vitamin D supplements to boost bone health.
Walking safely at home and on the go
When you are up and moving around, Dr. Sinvani says a focus on safe ambulation, or walking, can reduce falls-for example, wearing glasses, choosing comfortable shoes with nonslip soles and ankle support, wearing hearing aids if appropriate, and using a cane or walker when needed.
If the tasks you need to perform at home each day, such as going to the bathroom or getting into the bathtub, are difficult for you, consider using some assistive devices. For example, a walk-in tub may be beneficial if you find it difficult to get into and out of the bathtub safely. Consider a bidet toilet seat to make your daily care a little bit easier if it becomes challenging to clean yourself well on the toilet.
Perform a home safety assessment
A home safety assessment can identify high-risk areas you can change to prevent or decrease falls. While not an exhaustive list, here are some home safety modifications to consider.
- Remove or secure loose rugs and cords.
- Move furniture that sticks out in an unsafe way.
- Use nonslip mats in the bathroom or other potentially wet areas.
- Keep high-traffic areas and rooms well lit with lamps and night-lights.
- Add grab bars in the bathtub or shower and by the toilet.
- Install a raised toilet seat.
- Put railings on both sides of the stairs.
- Install a walk-in tub with a low-step threshold for easier access in and out of the tub. A walk-in tub also comes with a seat to reduce falling when bathing.
Consider a medical alert system with fall detection
Purchasing a medical alert system with fall detection can help you stay safe, especially if you live alone. These devices provide emergency monitoring through a wearable help button you can activate if you need emergency assistance.
Some systems also offer an added feature known as automatic fall detection that detects when you fall. When the device senses a fall, it sends a signal to the monitoring company.
Post a home safety checklist
Several organizations like the CDC publish home safety checklists you can use to make your home or your loved one's living space as fall-proof as possible. Although most cover the same guidelines, you may want to look through a few of them to decide which one best fits your needs. Here are three to get you started.
What to do after a fall
If you or a loved one experiences a fall, it's important to contact your doctor right away. During non-office hours, a trip to the emergency room may be necessary to get an X-ray or assess any injuries. But if you live alone and suspect a serious injury like a broken bone or head injury, call 911 immediately or activate your medical alert system for emergency assistance. Otherwise, ask a family member to take you to the hospital.
After a fall, take some time to review fall prevention guidelines. Ask a friend or family member to do a home walk-through with you to assess fall hazards and make appropriate safety modifications. Depending on your living situation, this may require assistance from a senior-health expert, occupational therapist, or Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist from the National Association of Home Builders.
Sara Lindberg is a mental health and fitness expert who enjoys writing about health, wellness, nutrition, parenting, and education. With a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science and a Master of Education degree in counseling she's spent the last twenty years helping people improve both their physical and mental health. Her work has appeared in publications such as Healthline, VeryWell Health, VeryWell Fit, Livestrong, Men's Health, SheKnows, Runner's World and many more.