Making changes at home to prevent falls
Falling is a common worry among older adults and their caregivers—for good reason. Each year, one in four people aged 65 and over will have a fall, making it a leading cause of injury. And with injury often comes further physical decline and loss of independence.
While not all falls can be prevented, caregivers can help their loved ones reduce the risk of falls. According to the National Council on Aging, 75% of falls take place in or near the home. Taking a good look around can help ensure that your loved one’s living space is free of common hazards.
- Position furniture to create clear walking paths
- Remove throw rugs
- Eliminate anything that could be a tripping or slipping hazard
- Reposition and coil cords so they can’t be tripped on
- Fix steps that are loose, broken or uneven
- Keep them well-lighted and clear of clutter
- Firmly attach carpet to steps—or remove it and add nonslip rubber treads
- Install sturdy handrails on both sides of stairs
- Position often-used items in easily reachable cabinets
- Use a rubber mat or nonslip strips on the floor of the tub/shower
- Install grab bars in the tub and next to the toilet
- Use a shower chair so your loved one doesn’t have to stand in the shower
- Keep a lamp within easy reach of the bed
- Use nightlights
Outside the home
- Have your loved one use a shoulder bag, belt pack or backpack to keep both hands free
- Use baskets or bags with walkers
- Notice if your loved one’s bifocal or trifocal glasses cause issues with steps or curbs—a single prescription pair may be better for walks
Convincing your loved one to make changes
It’s one thing to know that these changes make for a safer living environment. But it may seem next to impossible to get your loved one to agree to them. They want to be as independent as possible, but if you see their strength and health declining, you must begin to prioritize their safety.
I recommend introducing changes little by little, making compromises as necessary to improve safety as much as possible. For example, if your loved one refuses to remove the area rugs, suggest taping down the edges with double-sided tape.
It can also help if suggestions come not from you or other family caregivers, but rather from your loved one’s medical provider or a physical or occupational therapist. Receiving the information from a health care professional can sometimes be easier than hearing it from a family member or friend.
Sheila Despres is a physical therapist and Site Director for the Leominster, Massachusetts, location of Fallon Health’s Summit ElderCare program, which is a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). Summit ElderCare provides medical care, insurance coverage, home assistance, adult day health services and social support to adults age 55+ so that they can remain living in their homes.