Every year, 1 in 4 seniors over 65 falls. A senior seeks emergency room treatment for a fall every 11 seconds. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults, and can compromise a senior’s independence and quality of life by leaving them in immense pain. Falls may even increase the risk of death.
Researchers from the University of Rochester found that 4.5 percent of seniors studied died following a ground level fall. Just 22 percent were able to continue living in their homes after a fall. And so fall prevention is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to help your loved one remain healthy and independent for as long as possible. These fall prevention strategies can help your loved one stay safe this winter.
Understand Your Loved One’s Specific Risk Factors
Not all seniors are at the same level of fall risk. Elders with osteoporosis may be more likely to stumble and fall, and to suffer severe injuries when they do. Dementia can compromise judgment and cause tunnel vision, increasing fall risk. Schedule an appointment with your loved one’s doctor to discuss their specific fall-risk factors. A bone mineral density scan, eye exam, and cognitive testing may be especially important for assessing risk.
Identify Household Fall Hazards
No house is 100 percent safe, but there’s still plenty you can do to identify and mitigate fall hazards. Pay close attention to these common culprits:
- Debris on the floor, including loose area rugs. Make sure your loved one has a clear path to walk along, and secure any rugs to the floor with anti-slip tape.
- Stairs. Stairs are a leading cause of serious falls. Consider installing railings on either side of the stairs. If your loved one does not need to use the stairs — such as if the stairs only connect to the basement — try gating them off.
- Narrow bathtubs, showers, and bathrooms. Support rails can help prevent falls.
- Inappropriate shoes. Shoes that don’t fit, high heels, and new shoes with slippery soles can increase fall risk. Ensure that your loved one has comfortable, well-fitting shoes.
- Small tables and furniture. Coffee tables, end tables, and nightstands can impede movement, especially in narrow walkways. Move these pieces so that they don’t.
- Poor lighting. Dim lights make it harder for seniors to see, especially if they have cataracts or other vision issues. Ensure that each area of the house is well lit. Motion-activated lights can be especially helpful for seniors who tend to wake up in the middle of the night and wander through the house.
Get Help from a Handyperson
With the right assistance, a house that’s otherwise filled with dangers can become quite safe. Consider household modifications that might reduce fall risk. A railing at the front step by the entry, anti-fall rails in the bathroom, and railings next to the bed can support your loved one’s efforts to move about more independently without stumbling. Some household repair experts specialize in making homes safer for seniors.
Be Mindful of Winter Weather Dangers
Cold weather presents some unique dangers, so find ways to mitigate the following:
- Holiday decorations. We’re all creatures of habit, so something out of place can increase the risk of a fall. Put holiday trees and displays in locations where seniors will not trip over or be startled by them.
- Ice and rain. Ice poses a serious fall risk, especially to seniors who like to walk. Ensure that walkways are clear of ice, and consider spending more time helping your loved one during particularly bad weather.
- Debris on the ground. Fallen leaves, tree branches, and other common cold-weather debris can become very slippery, especially on an incline. Use a leaf blower to clear the driveway and sidewalks, or invest in regular yard service.
Get Additional Support for Your Loved One
Sometimes even the best fall-prevention efforts are not enough. A loved one with advanced dementia or severe physical mobility limitations may fall even in a relatively safe environment. And so your family must work together to continually evaluate whether your loved one needs additional support. Adult day care, senior activity programs, in-home support, and senior living communities can all offer your senior loved one the support and safety they deserve.