Fall Prevention in the Elderly
Elderly falls can lead to significant injuries and a depleted quality of life. But with the right preventative steps, you can prevents falls and improve safety.
This guide offers everything you need to know to prevent senior falls.
- Fall Prevention in the Elderly
- 79 Tips for Senior In-Home Safety
- The Ultimate Bathroom Safety Checklist
- How to Build Muscle After 50 - A Key to Preventing Falls
One in four Americans 65+ falls each year. Will you be one?
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. They can have severe consequences like hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries. The National Council on Aging estimates the annual cost of older US adults at $50 billion.
Whether you’re older or caring for someone elderly, this guide can help. We provide important tips to avoid falling, steps to take if a fall happens, how to fall safely, and valuable resources for assistance. After reading this article, you will have the knowledge to prevent falls and feel more secure.
Causes of Falls in the Elderly
Before devising a strategy to prevent falls, it’s essential to understand the fall risk factors in elderly persons. Awareness of common causes can guide you to take appropriate steps.
Vision and Hearing Loss
The CDC reports that one in four US adults 65+ have hearing loss, and about one in three have vision impairment.
We rely heavily on our vision and hearing to do everyday activities. But when we experience sensory loss, our ability to perceive and respond to fall risks is impeded.
Vision loss can make it difficult to navigate unfamiliar environments. Hearing loss can diminish our ability to detect hazards such as approaching traffic or a ringing telephone. Both of these sensory deficits can contribute to falls.
Balance and Mobility Issues
Even the healthiest people lose balance and mobility over time. And those with more significant issues pose a greater fall risk. Existing balance issues can make it hard to stay standing if one bumps into an object. And with mobility issues, it can be harder to stay standing longer.
Chronic Health Conditions
Chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and dementia, can increase the risk of falls. These health issues can impact muscle strength, coordination, and thinking ability, making it harder to do daily tasks and avoid falling.
Dehydration and Malnutrition
Regardless of age, staying hydrated and well-nourished is important to health. Dehydration and malnutrition can cause weakness, fatigue, and dizziness, increasing the chances of falling.
One of the most significant risk factors for falling is the objects in one’s living space. Common environmental hazards include:
- Poor lightin
- Cluttered walkways
- Uneven flooring
- Loose rugs
- And stairs without handrails.
Outdoor hazards such as snow and ice can also be dangerous for older adults.
Alcohol and Substance Use
Things like alcohol, and medications can increase the risk of falls by impairing judgment, coordination, and balance. Older adults who take medications that cause dizziness or drowsiness should be cautious.
Steps to Prevent Falls
Senior fall prevention is critical to maintaining health, independence, and quality of life. And while it may be overwhelming (and even frightening), many simple fall prevention strategies are available.
One less invasive and empowering method of fall prevention for seniors is to exercise regularly. Doing so can help improve balance, strength, and flexibility, which are all key to preventing falls. And the method of exercise can vary based on needs and abilities. A few options include strength training, walking, tai chi, and yoga.
Home Safety Modifications
Making proper home modifications is one of the most vital aspects of preventing falls in the elderly. Ordinary things such as loose rugs, cluttered walkways, and even bathtubs with higher walls may seem harmless but can be dangerous.
There are many steps and options for in-home fall prevention. A great way to start is by performing a walk-through of the house. During the walk-through, look for fall-risk items, such as:
- Loose rugs
- Poor lighting
- Tight spaces
- And stairs without handrails.
Making a home safer is critical to elderly fall prevention. Another area that may require more attention is the bathroom. Because of its wet nature, this is where most falls occur. Installing items such as grab bars, bath mats, and shower seats can add additional support.
Wear Proper Footwear
Shoes can heavily influence the ability to balance, have stable traction, and walk. And in older age, the shoes worn are even more critical. Wearing supportive and properly fitted footwear with low heels and non-slip soles can help improve balance and reduce fall risk. Avoid high heels and shoes with slick soles.
Some medications can cause dizziness, drowsiness, or other side effects that can increase fall risk. Older adults should talk to their healthcare provider about medication interactions and side effects that might increase fall risk.
Get Regular Vision and Hearing Exams
Having vision and hearing checked frequently can help identify sensory deficits contributing to falls. A doctor can recommend glasses or a hearing aid based on the deficit level.
Use Assistive Devices
Assistive devices can prevent seniors from falling while giving them a certain level of independence. There are many types of assistive devices to prevent falls in the elderly. A few common types include:
- Mobility aids provide balance and walking support.
- Reacher grabbers extend reach to minimize or eliminate the need to bend over or reach extensively.
- Dressing aids include sock aids and shoe horns. Both minimize the need to bend over while putting on shoes or socks.
- Fall mats may be necessary for those who are a higher fall risk. They can be placed around the bed or in any area prone to falls. These can prevent injury by offering cushion should a fall occur.
- Bed rails provide a protective barrier around the bed to prevent falls. They can also offer assistance when getting in and out of bed.
Assistive devices are generally designed to provide balance & walking support and prevent one from bending and over-exerting themselves.
Keep in Touch with Healthcare Providers
Regular doctor visits can assist older adults in maintaining good health. The extra set of eyes can identify any new fall risks.
A doctor might recommend a new exercise or assistive device to prevent falls. Nothing beats professional tips for fall prevention, as they are more versed and educated than any source on the internet.
What to do in the Case of a Fall
Knowing what to do when an elderly person falls is crucial as it can prevent further injury. In the case of a fall, follow these steps:
- Assess the situation: Check for signs of injury and determine if they’re conscious and can speak. Call 911 if they are unconscious or have severe injuries.
- Help the person up: If they’re conscious and can speak, offer assistance to help them get up slowly and carefully. Use furniture or other stable objects for support if needed.
- Check for injuries: Check them for visible injuries such as cuts, bruises, or swelling. Call for emergency medical services if there are signs of a severe injury, such as a broken bone or head injury.
- Monitor for symptoms: Even if there are no visible injuries, monitor them for symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, or difficulty breathing. If any symptoms develop, call for emergency medical services.
- Encourage rest and recovery: Encourage them to rest and avoid physical activity to heal after a fall. Consider scheduling a follow-up visit with a healthcare provider to check for hidden injuries or underlying medical conditions.
Things to Have on Hand in the Case of a Fall
In the case of a fall, the right items can prevent further injury, offer pain relief, and make injury treatment manageable. We recommend storing the things mentioned below in your home and any vehicle used frequently. This will ensure they’re accessible while at home or away.
First Aid Kit
Much like emergencies, every first aid kit is different. Having a properly stocked first aid kit can ensure proper preparation. Consider adding these items to a first aid kit:
- Adhesive bandages in various sizes
- Sterile gauze pads
- Adhesive tape
- Alcohol wipes or antiseptic solution
- Saline solution for cleaning wounds
- Disposable gloves
- Instant cold pack
- Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Anti-inflammatory cream or ointment
- Hydrocortisone cream for insect bites and rashes
- Epinephrine auto-injector for severe allergic reactions (if needed)
- A first aid manual or instruction booklet
Phone and Medical Alert Device
We recommend a cell phone and medical alert device. A phone can provide the ability to call someone should a fall occur. If a phone can’t be reached, a medical alert device can call 911 without getting up. Both can be lifesavers.
Medical Jewelry if any Conditions are Present
Medical jewelry is specialized jewelry that notifies emergency personnel and doctors of any preexisting conditions. If one is unconscious, it can signal if they have any conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or epilepsy. This can prevent them from using medications or procedures that worsen conditions.
Having a thorough list of emergency contacts can make emergencies much more manageable. Not only that, but it’s vital to keep this list in an easily accessible and known place. When creating the list, include the following:
- Personal contacts such as close family members, friends, or neighbors
- Healthcare providers such as primary care physicians, any specialists, and a preferred hospital or urgent care center
- Emergency services
- Poison control
- Home care agency or caregiver
- Insurance information
- Legal contacts
Keep this list updated and provide copies to anyone who can be contacted in case help is needed.
Learn How to Fall
Knowing how to fall appropriately is highly recommended as it can reduce the risk of severe injury and minimize fall impact. Individuals naturally tend to break their fall with their hands or arms when they fall. Doing so can lead to fractures, sprains, or other injuries.
Learning to fall correctly involves training the body to react properly to a fall. This means protecting the head and vital organs while rolling with the fall to distribute impact. We recommend seeking training or guidance from a healthcare professional or trained professional to learn proper techniques and practice.
Consider these tips when learning to fall:
- Practice falling: One way to learn how to fall safely is to practice falling in a controlled environment. This can help seniors to become more comfortable with falling and to learn how to protect themselves.
- Keep the head up: When falling, it's essential to keep the head up to reduce the risk of a head injury. Tuck in the chin to avoid hitting your head on the ground.
- Roll with the fall: Try to roll with the fall to distribute the fall impact and protect the body.
- Protect the hips: The hips are a common injury site in falls, especially among seniors. To protect the hips, try to fall on the side and tuck the knees towards the chest.
- Avoid using arms: While it may be tempting to use them to break a fall, doing so increases the risk of injury to arms, wrists, and shoulders. Instead, try to fall onto the side and tuck your arms toward the body.
Fall Prevention Resources for Seniors
There are many great resources to help prevent falls. Below, you’ll find various videos, programs, centers, and support groups from reputable organizations. Using the right resource can help prioritize and prevent falls.
Infographic & Video: Six Steps to Prevent a Fall from the National Council on Aging
This animated video and infographic from NCOA offer six simple steps to prevent falls.
Article: The Caregiver’s Guide to In-Home Safety by Carex Health Brands
This article breaks down 79 actionable tips for fall prevention at home for the elderly. We organize each tip into categories such as fire safety, general safety, emergency preparedness, and specific rooms in a home.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, this article is excellent. It can be used to go through the entire house to prevent falls and make general safety improvements.
Fall Prevention Programs
A fall prevention program can be a great way to prevent falls if you want a hands-on approach. These programs involve a caregiver coming to the home and providing an in-home care plan suited to the individual's needs. Below are links to a few programs.
A senior center can be an excellent resource for preventing falls. These types of community centers frequently offer education on fall prevention. The U.S. Administration on Aging offers a free eldercare locator to find a senior center and additional resources by location.
If you want advice from first-hand experience, a senior support group may be an exceptional resource. These support groups typically include those with similar ages and struggles. They can meet in person or online only. Here are a few online groups to join:
What are You Doing to Prevent Falls?
We’ve covered many fall prevention tips for seniors in this article. And while no one ever wants to experience this, it can be avoided with the right preventative actions. After reading this article, the next step is creating your action item checklist. Think about the areas of the home or lifestyle that pose the most significant risk and solutions to alleviate it.
What are you doing to prevent falls? Leave a comment below; we’d love to know!
About the Author
Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.