According to the CDC, 3 million seniors are treated every year in emergency rooms because of falls. (1) As people age, their risk of falling increases due to factors such as reduced muscle strength (especially weak stabilizer muscles and poor core strength), slower reflexes, changes in vision, and certain medications that can affect balance. Falls can lead to serious injuries like head injuries, broken bones, and hip fractures just to name a few, making fall prevention an important concern for an older adult. There are steps that seniors can take to reduce their risk of falling and maintain their independence. Some of these steps include making their homes safer, staying active through balance and strength-training exercises, wearing appropriate footwear, using assistive devices if needed, and talking to their doctors about medications that may increase their risk of falling. By following these tips, seniors can help prevent falls and live their lives to the fullest.
Some Important Areas to Look at When Reducing Fall Risk in Seniors
Fall prevention is an important issue for seniors, as falls can lead to serious injuries and can have a significant impact on quality of life. Here are general areas that we will cover in this discussion of fall prevention:
- Keep Your Home Well-Lit
- Remove Tripping Hazards
- Wear Appropriate Shoes
- Exercise Regularly
- Use Assistive Devices
- Get Your Vision Checked
- Fall-Proof Your Bathroom
- Wearable Fall Detection Devices
- Hydration and Alcohol Temperance
- Avoid Dangerous Climbing and Unstable Surfaces
Let’s now take a closer look at these areas to discover practical action steps that can be taken to lower your risk of falls.
Lighting for Seniors
One of the most important things that seniors can do to prevent falls is to have good lighting in their homes. A properly lit home will make it much easier for aging adults to navigate at night, and also help them see when they are stepping into dangerous areas inside and outside of the home. Here are a few ways to keep your home well-lit and lower your fall risk:
- Install additional light fixtures: Consider adding additional light fixtures in areas that are poorly lit or have shadows.
- Use brighter light bulbs: Choose light bulbs that have a higher lumens rating to provide more light in your home.
- Use natural light: Keep curtains and blinds open during the day to allow natural light to come in.
- Use motion-sensing lights: Install motion-sensing lights in areas such as the hallways or outside the front door to help light the way when you are walking around your home at night.
- Add reflective tape or stickers: Consider adding reflective tape or stickers to items such as the edges of steps or the handles of doors to help make them more visible in low light conditions.
- Use light-colored paint: Painting walls and ceilings with light colors can help reflect light and make a room appear brighter.
- Use portable lights: Consider using portable lights such as floor lamps or table lamps to provide additional lighting in specific areas.
- Strategically place a few night lights: Place safety night lights in bathrooms, hallways and the top of stairs.
Also, keep a few flashlights handy and place them in different locations in case of a power outage.
Of course anything that can cause you to trip and fall is a potential tripping hazard and it should be properly addressed. Here are some tips for identifying and removing tripping hazards in your home:
- Keep floors clear: Make sure that floors and walkways are free of clutter and that all items are stored in their proper place. This includes items such as shoes, bags, and toys.
- Secure rugs and mats: Make sure that rugs and mats are securely in place and that they do not slide or bunch up. Consider using non-slip mats or adhesive strips to help keep rugs and mats in place.
- Repair or replace damaged flooring: If you have damaged or uneven flooring, such as loose tiles or loose carpet, have it repaired or replaced as soon as possible to prevent tripping hazards.
- Secure electrical cords and wires: Make sure that cords and wires are out of the way and secure. Consider using cord covers or ties to keep them organized and out of sight.
- Remove tripping hazards from outdoor areas: Check outdoor areas such as sidewalks, driveways, and steps for tripping hazards such as cracks, holes, or uneven surfaces. Repair any damage and make sure that all outdoor areas are well-lit.
- Pets: Large energetic dogs or even hyperactive smaller ones can certainly be tripping hazards for older adults. Be especially careful around the top of stairs or when carrying items such as groceries. The companionship and security that pets provide can make them a valuable member of the household. But if they can possibility be a tripping hazard and injury, they should be removed. In some cases it may be possible to limit the risk factors by having the dog trained by a professional or have a family member take the pet until it outgrows its puppy stage.
Remember to regularly check your home for tripping hazards and take steps to remove them as needed. By eliminating tripping hazards, you can help reduce the risk of falls and keep your home safer for everyone.
How to Choose the Best Shoes for Seniors to Prevent Falls
Wearing appropriate shoes can help prevent falls and keep you or a family member safer. Here are some tips for choosing the right shoes:
- Choose shoes and slippers that fit well: Make sure that your shoes fit properly and are comfortable. Shoes that are too large or too small can cause you to trip and fall.
- Choose shoes with good support: Look for shoes that provide good arch support and cushioning. This will help reduce strain on your feet and ankles, and can help improve balance and stability.
- Avoid high heels: High heels can be unstable and increase the risk of falls. Choose shoes with a low, stable heel instead.
- Avoid slippery soles: Choose shoes with soles that have a good grip, especially if you will be walking on slippery surfaces such as wet sidewalks or tiled floors.
- Consider your needs: Consider your specific needs and wear shoes that are appropriate for the activities you will be doing.
For example, if you will be walking long distances, you may want to choose shoes with more cushioning and support. Remember to replace your shoes when they become worn or uncomfortable, as this can also increase the risk of falls.
Regular Exercise Can Help Prevent Falls
Exercise is important for seniors, as it can help improve balance and coordination, which can help reduce the risk of falls. Here are some tips for exercising regularly:
- Find activities you enjoy: Choose a physical activity that you enjoy because that will increase the likelihood that you will stick with your exercise routine. Some options may include walking, swimming, dancing, tai chi or yoga.
- Start slowly: If you are new to exercise or have not been active in a while, start slowly and gradually increase your activity level.
- Seek guidance: Consider working with a physical therapist or other healthcare professional to help you develop an appropriate exercise plan. They can also help you modify exercises as needed based on your abilities and limitations.
- Stay consistent: Try to exercise at least 3 times a week and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per session.
- Stay safe: Make sure to use proper form when exercising and stop if you experience any pain or discomfort.
Remember to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any underlying health conditions. Exercise is an important component of fall prevention, but it is important to make sure you are doing it safely.
Some Medications can Increase Fall Risks in Seniors
Medications can have side effects or drug interactions that can increase the risk of falls in seniors. Here are some things to consider when it comes to medication and fall prevention:
- Be aware of side effects: Some medications can cause side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, or impaired balance, which can increase the risk of falls. Be aware of the potential side effects of any medications you are taking and talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
- Use caution with multiple medications: If you are taking multiple medications, be aware that the combination of medications can increase the risk of falls. Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of taking multiple medications, and consider whether any adjustments can be made to reduce the risk of falls.
- Use caution when starting a new medication: Be especially cautious when starting a new medication, as it can take time for your body to adjust to it. If you experience any side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness, talk to your healthcare provider right away.
- Use assistive devices as needed: If you are taking medications that increase the risk of falls, consider using assistive devices such as a cane or walker to help improve stability and reduce the risk of falls.
Remember to always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions when taking medications and to report any concerns or side effects to them. They can help you manage the risks and benefits of your medications and help you find the right balance for your needs.
Fall Risks can be Lowered with Mobility Assistive Devices
Assistive devices are tools or equipment that can help seniors with mobility and stability, and can be an important component of your fall prevention strategies. Some common assistive devices include:
- Canes: Canes can help improve stability and balance when walking. They can be used on one side or on both sides, depending on your needs.
- Walkers: Walkers provide additional support and stability when walking, and can be especially helpful for people with balance or coordination issues.
- Wheelchairs: Wheelchairs can be helpful for people who have difficulty walking or who have mobility limitations. They can be manual or motorized, and come in a variety of sizes and styles.
- Scooters: Scooters can be a good option for people who have difficulty walking but still have good upper body strength. They can be used indoors or outdoors and are often easier to maneuver than wheelchairs.
- Stairlifts: Stairlifts can be a helpful option for people who have difficulty climbing stairs. They provide a chair or platform that can be used to safely transport someone up and down the stairs.
- Ramps: Ramps can be an important part of your fall prevention strategy. Since stairs and steep inclines can be potential hazard areas, ramps can help to reduce the fall risk.
- Handrails: Handrails should be installed on all stairways inside as well as outside the home.
Remember to consult with a healthcare professional before using any assistive device, as they can help you choose the right device for your needs and teach you how to use it safely.
Good Vision and Hearing Plays a Part in Fall Prevention
Having good vision and hearing is important for fall prevention in seniors, as poor they can increase the risk of falls if not properly cared for. Johns Hopkins Medicine says about:
“Every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4 fold.” (2)
Here are some fall prevention considerations when it comes to hearing and vision:
- Have your vision and hearing checked regularly: Make sure to have your vision and hearing checked at least once a year, or more frequently if recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Wear hearing aids, glasses or contacts as needed: If you need hearing aids, glasses or contacts, make sure to wear them as prescribed.
- Keep glasses and contacts clean: Keep your glasses or contacts clean and in good repair to ensure that you have the best possible vision.
- Use appropriate lighting: Make sure that you have good lighting when reading, writing, or doing other activities that require good vision.
- Consider vision rehabilitation: If you have vision loss that cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts, consider vision rehabilitation services. These services can help you learn to use your remaining vision more effectively and can help you develop strategies to cope with vision loss.
Remember to take care of your vision and hearing by seeing you eye doctor regularly to help reduce the risk of falls and keep yourself safer.
Bathroom Safety Tips for Seniors
Bathrooms can be a hazardous place, especially for seniors who may be at an increased risk of falls or other accidents. However, with a few simple precautions, you can make your bathroom a safer place for you or your loved ones. Here are a few bathroom safety tips for seniors:
- Install grab bars and handrails: These can provide additional support and stability when you are getting in and out of the shower or bath, or when using the toilet. Make sure that the grab bars are securely anchored to the wall and can hold your weight.
- Use non-slip mats or stickers: Place non-slip mats or stickers in the bathtub or shower floor. They go a long way to help prevent slips and falls in the bathroom.
- Keep the floor dry: Wipe up any water on the floor after showering or bathing to reduce the risk of falls. If you have a home cleaning service or caregiver this would be an important point for them to note and keep in mind.
- Use a shower chair or bench: If you have difficulty standing for long periods of time, consider using a shower chair or bench to help you bathe safely.
- Install a handheld shower-head: A handheld shower-head can make it easier to shower while seated, and can also help you reach areas that may be difficult to access while standing. Since the hand-held shower-head can easily be used to spray your body from head to toe and front to back without moving and repositioning your feet this in itself decreases your fall risk. It is best if you can find one with a shut-off valve, so that you can conserve water while lathering up or shaving without having to reach for the main shower shut off.
- Use a toilet riser: To increase your safety getting on and off the toilet, consider using a toilet riser to raise the height of the seat. A lower toilet seat can potentially cause a fall because the senior has to go too low to be seated and has to raise themself too high to stand back up. Raising the toilet seat up a few inches can address both of these issues.
- Keep items within reach: Keep frequently used items, such as soap, shampoo, and towels, within easy reach to avoid having to stretch, turn or bend down.
- Consider using a walk-in tub: If you have mobility issues, a walk-in tub may be a safer option for bathing. These tubs have a low threshold and a built-in seat, making it easier to get in and out of the tub.
- Make sure that your bathroom is well lit: Inadequate lighting is a leading cause of falls for elderly people. A well lit bathroom is one of the best ways to avoid falls. Seniors can better stay balanced and avoid obstacles by being able to see clearly. Lighting modifications in critical places can help older people stay self-sufficient by practicing good injury prevention. Also, a nightlight helps with visibility during nighttime visits to the bathroom and is highly recommended.
- Ensure that there is a communication device available: Always bring a well charged cellphone in the bathroom with you in case of an emergency.
By following these and other safety measures, you can help reduce the risk of accidents and make your bathroom a safer place for everyone.
Fall Detection Wearable Devices
Would a waterproof medical alert devise be helpful as well when it comes to senior fall prevention in bathrooms? Absolutely! A waterproof medical alert device can be a helpful safety tool for seniors who are at risk of falls, especially if they live alone. These devices allow seniors to call for help in the event of a fall or other emergency by pressing a button on the device. If a senior falls in the bathroom, they may not be able to reach a phone to call for help. A wearable waterproof medical alert device can provide peace of mind and help the senior to get needed assistance quickly. There are several types of waterproof medical alert devices available. Some even have fall detection technology incase if the injured person is not able to respond. Some of these devices are wristbands and pendants that can be worn around the neck or on the wrist that can be a little safer than even a cell phone that may be out of reach if the person become immobile. Some devices are designed to be worn in the shower or bath, while others are not waterproof and should be removed before getting wet. It is important to choose a device that is appropriate for the senior’s needs and activities.
Stay Hydrated and Avoid Alcohol
It’s important for people of all ages to stay hydrated, but it’s especially important for seniors to make sure they are getting enough fluids. Dehydration can cause a number of health problems, including dizziness and balance issues. It’s also a good idea for seniors to avoid or limit their alcohol consumption, as alcohol can also cause dizziness and balance problems. In addition to drinking plenty of water, seniors can stay hydrated by eating foods that are high in water content, such as fruits and vegetables.
Avoid Standing on Chairs and Other Unstable Surfaces
Climbing and standing on chairs or other unstable surfaces can certainly increase the risk of falls for seniors. It’s important for seniors to be careful when standing on any type of surface, and to avoid standing on chairs or other unstable surfaces whenever possible. Excessive reaching and climbing can increase the risk of falls for seniors. To avoid these activities and stay safe, seniors can try the following strategies:
- Keep frequently used items within easy reach. Take such items off of top shelves and store them on lower shelves or on top of the counter.
- Use a step stool with a handrail to reach high items, rather than standing on a chair or other unstable surface.
- Consider using “reachers” (3) to help grab out of reach items, eliminating the need to climb.
- If you need to climb a ladder, have someone hold it steady for you and use the ladder safely, following all safety guidelines.
- Avoid climbing on unstable surfaces or standing on furniture to reach items.
- Ask for help if you need it, rather than trying to do something that may be unsafe.
Fall prevention is an important concern for seniors as falls can lead to serious injuries, permanent disability and even death. Decreasing the risk of falls is more than picking up the legos that the grandkids left on the stairs. It really requires a comprehensive approach that was attempted to be explained here, along with the helpful guidance from a senior’s doctor or medical professional. In so doing, the chances of keeping seniors safer will increase, their independence will be prolonged and their quality of life will improve as well. This article should not be taken as medical advice but only as general safety guidelines. If you are at risk for falls or have a fear of falling, you should speak with a healthcare professional about the precautions that you should take to prevent falls to address your individual circumstances.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important facts about falls. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Linked to Three-Fold Risk of Falling [online]. Accessed January 7, 2023.
- Wikipedia. Reach extender [online]. Accessed January 6, 2023.
To share this article with a friend or loved one, please click on the envelope.