More than 36 million older adults fall each year, with an estimated 8 million resulting in injuries ranging from minor bruising to more serious hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries. In Texas, almost 34 percent of older adults reported falling each year on average—nearly 6 percent more than the national average.
Surprisingly, a majority of falls occur inside homes with no stairs. Living rooms and bedrooms see the most falls, with kitchens, bathrooms and hallways following close behind. Because of this, all older adults and caregivers should take the necessary steps to make their homes safer to prevent falls.
“Most Americans want to remain in their homes and communities as long as they can,” said Marcia G. Ory, founding director of the Texas A&M Health Center for Population Health and Aging. “Falls are not an inevitable part of aging. With the help of environmental, technological and social supports, older adults can take a proactive approach to improve their health to live longer and more independent lives.”
While falls prevention measures usually focus on the main living spaces, people often forget about taking preventative measures in their bedrooms and bathrooms. The following are several ways that older adults and their caregivers can create safety measures to prevent falls.
First and foremost, make sure the floor is clear of all clutter. Remove any objects such as books and shoes to reduce tripping hazards. If there are any rugs, remove them or add non-slip backings so they won’t slip.
In addition, make sure cords from lighting, medical equipment and telephones are not placed across walkways and floors. These can be trip hazards and should be secured next to or against a wall.
Perhaps the most overlooked item to prepare against falls is the bed. First, check the mattress age and condition. Depending on the individual, the mattress should allow them to move easily in and out of bed without pain or discomfort. Next, make sure the bed is set at the correct height. When sitting on the bed, feet should be firmly on the ground with knees at a 90-degree angle. If help is needed to rise from the bed, safety rails can be installed for additional support and protection.
In addition, ensure that sheets and blankets are secured so they do not hang on the floor and cause trip hazards. Adding pool noodles underneath fitted sheets at the edge of the bed can create a roll barrier. Wedge pillows or a body pillow can also be used to create a barricade.
At night, make sure ample lighting is available and easily accessible next to the bed. Placing motion-sensor nightlights along walkways will light up hallway paths to the bathroom or other rooms in the home.
Making your way to the bathroom via the hallway lit with motion-sensor nightlights ensures safe movement into the bathroom. As with the bedroom floors, make sure clutter is removed from the area. For additional security, add non-slip rug tape to bathmats to secure them in place.
Before placing non-skip strips in the tub and shower to guard against falls, clean the shower and tub from soap scum and residue, and clean regularly to prevent buildup.
Some bathroom preventative measures may include minor to major physical home modification. While many can be done with the help of a caregiver or family member, some modifications may require the skills of a professional. A minor home modification is installing grab bars next to the toilet and tub. These provide extra support from getting off of or out of these devices.
Installing adjustable-height or handheld showerheads allows the water stream to be set at the correct level for each user. These can also be helpful for older adults who use a bench seat while showering.
To make sure surfaces are free of clutter, keep often-used items in cabinets that can be easily reached without having to use a step stool or a grab device.
While the above list of safeguards and modifications allows older adults to create a safer living environment, there are six steps the National Council on Aging (NCOA) recommends people take to reduce their risk of falling.
Find a good exercise program that can help build balance, strength and flexibility.
Talk to your health care provider regularly about your falls history and any recent changes. You can also ask for a falls assessment to know your risk.
Review your medications regularly with your pharmacist and/or your health care provider to make sure they are not increasing your risk of falling.
Get your hearing and vision checked on a regular basis.
Assess your home by removing any tripping hazards, increasing lighting, installing grab bars and making stairs safe, as necessary.
Talk to your family members and include them in your efforts to make your surroundings and yourself safe from falls.
“Daily lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity, nutrition and sleep quality can influence fall risk, and these are never too late to change,” said Matthew Lee Smith, PhD, MPH, co-director of the Center for Population Health and Aging. “Interventions can be successful for people of all ages. Among the most important is physical activity, namely, safely performing lower-body exercises to increase strength, balance and flexibility.”
Falls Prevention Awareness Week
Join the center and its colleagues September 20-24, 2021 for Falls Prevention Awareness Week. In 2020, the NCOA declared Falls Prevention Awareness as a weekly observance. In past years, falls prevention had received only a one-day observance. This year, the center and its colleagues will be offering online programming that will include sessions on the falls prevention checklist, how to integrate evidence-based falls programs into your programming, and working with community-based organizations to implement falls programs. For a full schedule, resources and events from around the state, visit fallspreventiontexas.org.