Family caregivers know that any fall could lead to the loss of independence for their senior loved one.
Falls are preventable and we want to take every possible precaution to avoid them in every room in our home.
There are also things we can do outside the home to improve safety and help prevent falls.
With the arrival of fall, it’s time for Fall Prevention Awareness Day so that we can all help our seniors avoid falls or at least reduce their number and severity.
This is a great time to learn more about more things we can do to make the home a safer place!
Fear of Falling
Seniors who have fallen before naturally become fearful of another fall. In fact, seniors who experience a first fall are two to three times more likely to fall again.
Many seniors who fear falling withdraw from doing many things they once enjoyed doing — or need to do.
They are staying away from visiting friends, attending church or shopping for what they need hoping that they won’t put themselves in a situation where they might fall. In reality, 55% of all falls occur in the home.
Unfortunately, they increase their risk for falls when they stop being active. Their muscles weaken and their balance is compromised.
The statistics bear this out:
- 1 out of 3 older adults fall each year
- In 2013, the direct medical cost of falling was $34 Billion
- 20-30% of those who fall suffer injuries that can lead to loss of independence and death
- Majority of fractures in older adults are the result of falls; 95% of hip fractures
- In 2013 there were 25,500 fall related deaths in elders
Most Common Causes of Falls in Elders
Everyday seniors fall and it is important to learn what happened to help prevent a repeat.
We need to figure out the circumstances surrounding the fall, such as time of day, what the senior was doing just before the fall, medication use and where they fell. If a witness observed the fall, we should talk to them to get more information.
Getting to the root cause will help caregivers take necessary actions to correct any environmental factors or medical reasons that might have precipitated the fall. Remember, if it happened once, it is twice as likely to happen again and this time there might be a serious injury.
Here are the top reasons seniors fall according to American Family Physicians:
- Accident, environmental hazard, fall from bed
- Gait disturbance, balance disorders or weakness, pain related to arthritis
- Medications or alcohol
- Acute illness
- Confusion and cognitive impairment
- Postural hypotension
- Visual disorder
- Central nervous system disorder, syncope, drop attacks, epilepsy
If your senior loved one is at risk for these factors, you will be able to get going on creating your action plan to negate these factors.
Strategies for Preventing Falls
There are many things that family caregivers can do to prevent falls in the home. Modifying the home environment is often a quick step we can all take to improve safety.
Here are some easy things to do:
- Remove throw rugs
- Relocate electric cords strung in walkways
- Ensure seniors wear proper footwear in the house, not slippery slippers
- Remind them to wear their glasses (if appropriate)
- Reinforce the need to use their adaptive mobility devices (cane, walker, wheelchair) in the home, even going from bedroom to bathroom
- Remove furniture obstacles and clutter throughout the home to allow greater freedom of unobstructed movement
You can also do some home modifications that will help prevent falls:
- Install grab bars in the bathroom around the toilet, shower and sink
- Repair loose flooring or install nonskid flooring
- Install adequate lighting, perhaps adding motion controlled lights for key areas traveled at night
- Widen doorways if needed to accommodate wheelchairs so they will be used
- Build a ramp in and out of house where there are stairs
- Convert shower to curbless so there is no step to go over
There are things you should also do outside the house to keep your senior loved one safe at home:
- Be sure the lighting outside is directed at the pathways
- Cut back shrubs or greenery that could lead to a fall
- Repair porch floor, steps or cracks in the sidewalk that could cause a trip and fall
- Install hand rails on both sides of the stairways
- Keep the fallen leaves, snow and ice clear in walkways
- Keep thresholds into and out of the door as low as possible and in good repair
(Editor’s note: We were offered a set of Handi-Treads for evaluation and the following discussion is based on that evaluation. There was no compensation for our review of the product and the words are totally our own. In addition, we will receive no compensation from purchases using the link and discount code provided below.)
We are always on the lookout for new ideas to keep the home safe for senior loved ones.
Recently we found a product that we thought had many applications for seniors, really every member of the family. It is called Handi-Treads.
Losing our footing going up and down the stairs is one way seniors can be injured from a fall. Handi-Treads are clearly durable, made from aluminum, won’t rust or corrode and don’t come off like tape or paints.
It can be a do-it-yourself project for even the least handy person. Installation requires only two gadgets that every home probably has on hand – a ruler and a screwdriver. The kit contains treads, the screws and full easy-to-follow instructions.
The makers of Handi-Treads indicate they may be installed on concrete stairs as well as wood, though I can speak only to my own installation on wooden steps.
Their raised tread surface gives traction to those walking on it. Be aware we found Handi-Treads uncomfortable to walk on in bare or socked feet. Maybe that will help remind your senior to have good walking shoes on when they go outside.
We tried it on our stairs and had some senior loved ones try it out for comfort, ease of stepping and safety.
We found them easy to install in a very short amount of time.
What I found was that the treads were relatively easy to install on the pressure treated wood on our stairs.
There are several screws that need to be used to hold each one firmly in place. Although a power screwdriver would make this task easier, I was able to screw them in by hand. It took longer and required more muscle power with the screwdriver so a power screwdriver would be handy. Some of my stairs were a bit warped from age, so they required a bit of nudging to get the tread to lay down flat. You will want to get one for each stair tread.
Caution should be taken to be sure that all the screws are installed flush to the stair so that they themselves don’t become trip hazards.
Once the treads were installed, several people were asked to use them and give their feedback on how effective they were to create better traction and prevent potential falls. We tested them in sun and rain so we could test in a variety of conditions as well.
Feedback We Received on the Handi-Treads
Some of the comments we heard were:
- the treads made a big difference in the traction felt when going up and down the stairs
- it was more effective than the tapes or paint on surfaces they had seen used in other places
- even when wet, the traction made it easier to use the stairs with more confidence
- after a rain, the treads dried fairly quickly but the water did not deter the traction
- usually walking on wet wood steps is hard because the stair is slippery from mold and algae build-up but the tread gave them more confidence about walking after a rain shower
The ease of installation and improvement in traction are two factors to consider when deciding whether to install these in your senior’s home. They come in a variety of colors which may be of interest on your senior’s stairs.
It should be noted we have not yet experienced the ice and snow of winter to evaluate the effectiveness of Handi-Treads in those conditions. This article will be updated with our observations after we do.
If you are interested in checking out Handi-Treads for your own home or that of your senior loved one, you can learn more and buy them at the company’s site HandiRamp.com or on Amazon.com. We asked the company for a discount code we could pass along so you can get 10% off if you enter BLOG2015 at checkout.
Customize Safety to Each Senior’s Home
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to making the modifications to seniors’ homes needed to make them safer places to live.
Since we often can’t do everything we would like, it’s important to prioritize based on the needs and physical limitations, if any, of your senior loved ones, as well as the environment of their homes.
If you need more suggestions for making your senior loved one’s home safer, download our free Home Seniorization Checklist. It has many ideas and tips to help you prevent falls and make their aging in place home more safe. Some of the suggestions are quick DIY fixes and others may require some help.
Keep in mind that each needed modification is worth the effort to make your senior safer at home!