What does your elderly parent’s home look like? Are there a lot of stairs? Does it have furniture that suits their needs? When is the last time it was updated or checked for safety?
According to the New England Journal of Medicine1, more than one third of individuals age 65 or older fall each year, and half of them fall repeatedly. Of these falls, approximately one in ten results in a serious injury.
The following conditions have been shown to increase the risk of falling:
- Depressive symptoms
- Impairment in cognition or vision
- Impairment in balance
- Use of four or more prescription medications
If you’re worried about your elderly loved one falling in their own home, explore some of these suggestions for avoiding everyday hazards.
- Low furniture should be replaced with taller counterparts to ensure ease of access for your loved one. Low seating can cause difficulty sitting down and standing up, especially if the furniture is not firm. Low tables such as short coffee tables can be difficult to use while seated and easy to run into while walking.
- Throw rugs placed on wooden, laminate, or tile flooring can easily slide around making it possible for your loved one to slip and fall. Sides of throw rugs can also become uneven with the floor creating a tripping hazard. It is best to have secured flooring throughout the home to prevent falls.
- Piles of stray objects in or near pathways are easy to trip over and can cause a fall. Clutter in your loved one’s home should be organized and relocated to an avoidable location. Clutter on and near stairs can cause falls with particularly serious injuries and should be moved immediately.
- Ensure that the stairwell is well lit and that the light can be turned on from both the top and bottom of the stairs. Falls on stairs are common and the ability to see steps clearly can decrease the probability of a fall.
- Make sure there are enough nightlights installed for your loved one to clearly see the path to the light switch. This can prevent running into furniture and tripping over objects before lights are turned on.
- Light outdoor pathways to and from the house with reliable lamps. Solar lamps automatically turn on in the dark ensuring that pathways are always lit. Also install adequate lighting where cars are parked for safe entry and exit from vehicles during the night hours.
- Handrails should be installed at any set of stairs your loved one might need to use, including small sets of stairs and those necessary to get in and out of the house. Although it may not seem necessary for a one stair entrance, it is often small sets of steps that are most commonly used and can easily cause falls.
- Loose carpeting or slippery flooring on stairs could result in tripping or slipping. In order to prevent falls, install secure carpeting or nonslip stair treads on all stairs.
- Because stairs are a common place to fall, try to reduce or eliminate the need to use them on a daily basis. If necessary and possible, relocate the bedroom to the main floor of the home so your loved one can more safely travel from room to room.
- To prevent falls in the shower, place a rubber mat or slip-resistant shower strips on the shower floor. This will provide a nonslip environment even when the shower floor becomes wet and slippery from the use of soap and other products.
- Install a sturdy handrail in and around the shower for use when entering and exiting the shower, as well as to remain steady inside the shower. Handrails should also be installed near the toilet to provide stability when sitting and standing.
- As with rugs in other rooms of the home, bathroom floor mats can easily cause your loved one to trip or slip and should be removed. These mats can be replaced with strips of slip-resistant tape to prevent slips on the wet floor.
- Install a toilet seat riser for those who have difficulty sitting down or standing up. Many of these products include removable handrails that can be connected to the seat for extra assistance. These risers can be attached to the current toilet which allows for a quick and easy installation.
Accidental falls are one of the most common causes of hospitalization among seniors. The New England Journal of Medicine1 explains that falls are associated with restricted mobility, a decline in the ability to carry out activities of daily living, and an increased risk of placement in a nursing home.
Several strategies have been used to reduce the occurrence of falls among the elderly, each with a different success rate. The strategies and their estimated percent of risk reduction are as follows:
- Balance and gait training and strengthening (14% to 27% risk reduction)
- Reduction in home hazards (19% risk reduction)
- Discontinuation of psychotropic medication (39% risk reduction)
- Multi-factorial risk assessment with target management (25% to 49% risk reduction)
- Specific balance or strength exercise programs (29% to 49% risk reduction)
In order to ensure the lowest adverse side effects, including falls, the New England Journal of Medicine1 suggests that all medications, including over-the-counter medications, be thoroughly reviewing and considered for possible elimination or dose reduction. The goal of medication review should be to maximize the overall health and functional benefits while minimizing the adverse effects that your loved one faces.
How many of these preventative changes have you made in your loved one’s home? If the answer is none or only a few, break out your to do list and start working toward a safer living environment.
1Tinetti, M.E. (2003). Preventing falls in elderly persons. The New England Journal of Medicine, 348 (1), 2-9.