Preventing falls among older adults is an integral component in remaining active, healthy, and independent in one's home. The unfortunate truth is one out of three adults 80 or older suffers a fall annually. Once someone is the victim of a fall, that person becomes twice as likely to fall again. Falls are among the leading causes of fatal injuries, traumatic brain injuries and broken hips. While not all falls result in such detrimental outcomes, they often leave people in fear of falling again. This fear can result in a decreased quality of life, as older adults will frequently begin to isolate themselves, withdrawing from social, community and leisure activities.
With the majority of falls occurring in or around one's home, there is a bright side! Many simple and relatively inexpensive measures may be taken, resulting in an overall safer environment. Being proactive and making these changes before an incident occurs is ideal. It is also important to keep in mind that accepting change, or one's need for change, can feel difficult or even overwhelming. To make the transition easier, try implementing only 1-2 changes at a time. Allow a week to try out whatever suggestion is being implemented. People are often surprised with how they grow not only to accept, but actually to prefer many of these recommendations.
It is important to consider safety in all rooms of a home; however, the bathroom has general recommendations for safety features that are typically quick and easy to implement. Most items listed here are available at any local medical supply store. They are also generally sold at Walmart, Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond for lower cost. Consider having items shipped, as it is frequently free and minimizes the stress of going to the store. Recommended items that may help prevent falls in the bathroom include:
- Shower seat (one with adjustable height recommended)
- Hand-held shower head
- Shower supply caddy (for keeping supplies within reach from seat)
- Rubber-backed bathmat (for floor outside shower)
- Non-slip rubber mat (for inside shower)
- Grab bars (Having these installed professionally provides optimal safety. If necessary, suction cup grab bars are an option; always confirm they are secure prior to use)
- Elevated toilet seat or safety frame
The bedroom is another area, like the bathroom, with specific recommendations. Some of these suggestions are aimed toward preventing excessive reaching to the floor and overhead, as well as preventing tripping hazards. Although these suggestions are specific to a bedroom, “thinking outside the box” with them makes sense – many ideas can be put to good use in other scenarios. Recommendations for the bedroom include:
- Chair with arms (for getting dressed)
- Bed rail (which slides between mattress and box spring for simple installation)
- Adjusting bed linen to prevent it from hanging on floor
- Over-the-door shoe organizer
- Lowering the closet rack to shoulder height or below if needed
- Laundry basket raised on stool or chair
- Bedside commode for nighttime (if concerned about walking to bathroom at night)
Additional general safety recommendations useful throughout a home are:
- Removing area/throw rugs
- Securing larger rugs with tape
- Running cords along the wall or securing them to the floor with tape
- Cordless telephones (to minimize cords and "running" when the phone rings)
- Walkways at least 36" wide and kept free from clutter
- Setting up chairs/tables to allow direct access to seating, including extra space for assistive devices such as walkers (just a few inches can make a big difference!)
- Tray or basket for walker to carry items
A type of home medical alert system (e.g., LifeAlert®, Philips Lifeline® or others) is highly recommended for many older adults. There is even an option for an alert system that detects a fall the instant it happens. (Some health insurance companies even supplement the cost.) If a fall occurs, it is extremely important to receive necessary medical attention as soon as possible to prevent further, avoidable complications.
The local senior center is a good resource when seeking donated equipment. Their supply is constantly changing, so it can be hit-or-miss. Depending on location, they may also be able to provide an alternative person or agency to contact if they are unable to provide what is needed.
These small adjustments to the home environment may significantly decrease the risk of falling, help provide greater peace of mind and allow older adults continued independence.
Contributed by Jillian Faulkner, Rehab COTA, SALMON VNA & Hospice