Falls are the leading cause of death, injury and hospital admissions among the elderly population. In fact, one out of every four seniors falls every year. Each year, more than 2.8 million fall-related injuries are treated in emergency rooms.
Several factors contribute to the fact that seniors fall so much more frequently than younger people:
- Lack of Physical Activity. Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased bone mass, loss of balance and reduced flexibility.
- Impaired Vision. This includes age-related eye diseases, as well as not wearing glasses that have been prescribed.
- Medications. Sedatives, anti-depressants, anti-psychotic drugs, and taking multiple medications can all increase the risk of falling.
- Diseases. Health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis cause weakness in the extremities, poor grip strength, balance disorders and cognitive impairment.
- Surgery. Hip replacements and other surgeries can leave an elderly person weak, in pain and discomfort, and less mobile than they were before the procedure. This can be temporary while a patient heals or a new and lasting problem.
- Environmental Hazards. One-third of all falls in the elderly population involve hazards at home. Factors include poor lighting, loose carpets and lack of safety equipment.
In spite of these risk factors, falls are not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls can be prevented by making homes safer and using mobility products that help keep seniors more stable.
Preventing Falls at Home
Caregivers can do several things to make a senior’s home safer and reduce their fall risk.
- Install safety bars, grab bars or handrails in the bathroom and shower.
- Put non-slip tape or treads on the floor of the bathtub.
- Use an elevated toilet seat (with or without arms) to make getting on and off the toilet easier.
- Install at least one sturdy stairway handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps.
- Be sure that stairwells are well lit. Consider making the lighting in your home brighter to aid vision.
- Make sure rugs, including those on stairs, are tacked to the floor.
- Remove any loose throw rugs.
- Avoid clutter. Remove any furniture that is not needed. All remaining furniture should be stable and without sharp corners to minimize the effects of a fall.
- Change the location of furniture so that your elderly parent can hold on to something as they move around the house.
- Remove or relocate electrical cords so that they do not trail across the floor. If necessary, relocate lamps or appliances or have additional plugs installed so that cords are not a tripping hazard.
- Have your parent wear non-slip shoes or slippers, rather than walking around in socks.
- Make sure all rooms have adequate lighting. Consider motion-activated lights that come on when a person enters a room. Use night lights in every room.
- Keep frequently used items in easy-to-reach cabinets to avoid unnecesary bending and reaching.
- Use a grasping tool to get out-of-reach items, rather than a chair or stepladder.
- Clean up spills and messes immediately.
Tools and Equipment to Increase Safety
Monitors and Sensor Pads
Sensors can be used on beds, chairs and toilet seats. The pads electronically detect the absence of pressure, which in turn sends a signal to the monitor, setting off an alarm. On a bed, pressure pads can be under or on top of the mattress. They are very thin, so they do not disturb sleep, and they are plugged into the monitor via a telephone-type line. Chair and toilet sensors work in the same way.
There are also products that detect when a person steps on the pad and sound an alarm. This type of sensor can be used beside the bed, in a hallway or in front of a chair to monitor when a person gets up or leaves a room unassisted.
Fall mats are used in areas where a person could be injured from a fall on a hard floor. They are cushioned floor mats of various sizes (1 or 2 inches thick) with beveled edges that can be used along the side of the bed, by a toilet or in front of a chair. They help to cushion falls and prevent injuries.
These devices provide extra stability and assistance during transfers. They are typically installed in areas where a senior may need something to hold on to for added balance. Bathrooms are a common location for grab bars, since they can help seniors sit down and get up from the toilet and enter and exit the bathtub or shower safely.
Shower Chair or Transfer Bench
A shower chair offers a senior a place to rest and regain balance while bathing. Transfer benches provide stability and support to help seniors with strength or balance issues safely enter and exit the tub or shower.
Anti-Slip Mats and Treads
Install these on the bathtub or shower floor. The hard rubber material provides additional traction and prevents slipping.
Canes and Walkers
Mobility aids help seniors feel steady on their feet. Make sure the device is the correct height for your elderly parent and has rubber tips or other traction on the bottom for safety. A physical or occupational therapist can assist in selecting and fitting a mobility aid.
Socks, Shoes and Slippers
Wearing properly fitted, low-heeled, non-slip footwear for walking and transferring provides traction and is much safer than going barefoot or wearing normal socks. Many socks and shoes are available with non-skid treads on the bottom to reduce slipping accidents. Avoid slip-on shoes that can easily come on and off and cause your loved one to trip.
Lifts and Patient Transfer Slings
Lift slings are used to move a person who is unable to move themselves from the bed to a wheelchair or chair. If a senior is too heavy to be transferred without assistance, a lift may be necessary to prevent injuries to both the senior and their caregiver.