Falls among older adults are dangerous, expensive, and -unfortunately- very common.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-resulting fatalities in people 65 and older. Each year, around 36 million falls among older adults are reported, of which 1 out 5 lead to a head injury or broken bones.
- Falls are a serious health risk for seniors, but understanding these risks enables proactive prevention.
- Installing handrails, using non-slip mats, and ensuring proper lighting in key areas like the bathroom, kitchen, and stairs significantly reduce fall risks.
- Clear, even, and well-lit floors are crucial to maintaining a safe home environment.
- Fall prevention measures safeguard seniors’ physical and mental health, independence, and quality of life.
Falls can have significant impacts, not just physical pain. Falls increase the risk of needing long-term care, fear of falling, loss of independence, depression, and the subsequent increased risk of falling.
However, falls aren’t inevitable for your aging loved one. Whether you’re a caregiver or a family member, there are common sense measures and changes you can implement around the house to stay healthy and prevent falls.
- Keeping Seniors Safe at Home with a Full Home Safety Checklist
Keeping Seniors Safe at Home with a Full Home Safety Checklist
This home safety checklist will help get you or your loved one’s home in tip-top shape to prevent accidents of all kinds.
We’ll explore practical measures and modifications you can implement throughout the home, helping to create a safer living environment for the whole family, and significantly reduce the risk of falls.
In addition to the following tips for individual home spaces, keep these whole-house safety components in mind:
- A working fire extinguisher- make sure to inspect the fire extinguisher on a regular basis. While they don’t typically expire, the average life span of fire extinguishers is 10-12 years.
- Inspect and replace batteries on carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors throughout the home.
- Consider installing a home security system
- Keep an updated emergency contact list in a visible location in the home, emergency services will most likely notice a list posted on the refrigerator.
- Create an emergency preparedness plan with your loved one. Help them walk through an escape plan in the event of a fire.
- Does your loved one have balance or mobility issues? They may need to start doing exercises specially designed to prevent falls.
Safety Tips: Transforming the Bathroom into a Safer Space
Wet and slippery bathrooms are a huge red flag when it comes to potential fall accidents. To reduce fall risks in a bathroom, follow the tips below:
- Install a non-shattering shower enclosure instead of glass doors.
- Install a handheld showerhead for easier bathing.
- Install secure handrails (also known as grab bars) in areas that are high-risk. For example, along the shower or bathtub and next to the toilet.
- Lay non skid mats in front of the bathtub for stable entry and exit. You can also place one in front of the toilet and sink for extra stability.
- Put anti-slip adhesive mats or strips on the shower/bathtub floor and walls.
- Get rid of any loose floormats that can cause a person to trip. Unsafe products should be discarded.
- If your senior loved one suffers from balance or mobility issues, a sturdy bathtub or shower bench can help them stay steady and rest while focusing on the bathing tasks instead.
- If getting on and off the toilet is difficult, install a raised toilet seat with armrests to stabilize them on the toilet. The armrests will make lowering and raising from the toilet seat easier.
- Consider installing a bidet toilet to make it easier for your older loved one to clean themselves.
- Install a liquid soap dispenser on the shower or bathtub wall.
- Install rubber foam covers on all faucets and sharp edges in the bathroom to prevent injuries in the event of falls.
If your loved one suffers from a disability, never leave them alone in the bathroom.
If remodeling is possible, consider installing a walk-in bathtub or step-in shower with wider doors and a low step-in floor.
Ensuring Kitchen Safety for Seniors: Practical Measures
A lot of things can go wrong in a kitchen and cause fall accidents. The following tips will help keep both small children and older adults safe in the kitchen:
- Get rid of any loose mats that can cause a senior to trip.
- Keep the items often used on lower shelves (about waist level) for easy access to avoid frequently reaching up to high shelves.
- Ensure that the kitchen is always well-lit, even during the night. Motion-triggered lights can be beneficial at nighttime.
- Install appropriate lighting over counters and stoves.
- Lay a non-slip, absorbent mat in front of the sink.
- Get rid of throw rugs.
- Check for loose flooring and make the necessary repairs.
- If you’re using floor wax, make sure it’s a non-skid type.
- Provide sturdy chairs for steady sitting down and getting up. Get rid of chairs that roll.
- Keep a first aid kit handy to treat cuts, burns, and sores.
If a step stool is necessary, get one with a handrail attached for the older adult to stand on in case they need to reach something at a higher level. Remind your loved one to never stand on a chair.
Whenever there’s a spill of food, grease, or liquid, be sure to clean it up immediately.
Bedroom Safety Measures to Prevent Falls
A bedroom can easily be a fall hazard, but it can be made safe with the following tips:
- Place a phone near sleeping areas.
- Make sure it’s not too much effort to get into and out of bed. An adjustable bed may be your best option to raise and lower depending on a loved one’s bed mobility now and in the future.
- Get rid of any items cluttering the floor near the sleeping area and pieces of furniture that may limit the movement of an older adult around the room.
- Place a lamp or nightlight in an easy-to-reach spot near the bed.
- Install nightlights along the path that a person may walk at night, for example, between the bedroom and the bathroom. Motion-sensor lights can be beneficial after dark.
- Consider placing a monitoring device close to the bed, or a bed alarm to be alerted if there’s any problem.
Stairs and Steps: Enhancing Safety for Older Adults
Here’s how to make stairs and steps safer for seniors:
- Check for uneven or broken steps and make the necessary repairs.
- Get rid of any objects cluttering the stairs such as shoes, books, and papers.
- Install a light switch both at the top and bottom of the staircase so that your loved one can turn on the lights from their position whether climbing up or down.
- If the stairway doesn’t have lighting, install an overhead light. Motion-triggered lights can be beneficial as they turn on automatically when someone is nearby.
- Make sure any lighting along the staircase is adequately strong.
- If the stairs’ steps are carpeted, ensure the carpet is firmly attached. Another option is to remove the carpeting and install non-slip rubber stair treads instead.
- Get rid of loose mats at the top or bottom of the stairs.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairs and make sure they’re sturdy enough for grabbing and holding on to.
- If the steps are bare wood, install non-slip rubber stair treads.
If possible, install chair lifts and ramps to make it easier for seniors to move between floors.
Floor Safety: Important Considerations in Living Spaces
Floors alone might seem harmless, but they can often become a major source of fall risks for older adults:
- Ensure that the floors are clear of clutter, including small furniture, pet bowls, extension cords, or other tripping hazards. Regularly check for items left on the stairways and high-traffic areas.
- Repair or replace any loose carpet or floorboards. If there are any uneven floor surfaces, they should also be fixed to avoid causing a loved one to trip.
- Install non-slip mats under area rugs to prevent them from sliding. Consider replacing highly polished or waxed floors with materials that are less likely to be slippery, especially when wet.
- Install adequate lighting in each room, hallway, and stairway so that any potential hazards on the floor can be clearly seen. Add nightlights in hallways and bathrooms for better visibility during the night.
- Consider installing handrails in long hallways or large open rooms (not just in stairways), particularly if the older adult uses a walker or cane, or has balance issues.
Minimizing Fall Risks in Living Rooms
Lounging and living areas can also contain fall hazards, so consider the following safety tips, to maximize their safety:
- Get rid of any items cluttering the floor and pieces of furniture that may restrict the movement of an older adult around the room or block paths between rooms.
- Get rid of low-level objects that can cause a senior to trip. For example, coffee tables, plants, footrests, and magazine racks.
- Move all cords and cables out of pathways. Tuck them away behind appliances or fasten them to walls, but don’t place them under rugs.
- In the case of wooden floors, check for loose boards and make the necessary repairs.
- Install light switches at easy-to-reach spots at the beginning and end of rooms.
- Get rid of throw rugs or fasten them to the floor using non-slip backing or double-sided tape.
- Check for any wobbly chairs and tables. Repair or get rid of the ones you find.
Install handrails like a stand-n-go or chair standing assist rails close to sofas and chairs in case your loved one has trouble getting up from a couch or easy chair.
Falls among older adults are unfortunately common, but by taking the right precautions, they don’t have to be inevitable. The long-term impacts on quality of life and mental health make fall prevention an absolute necessity.
By fall-proofing the home with this home safety checklist, you’re not just providing a safer environment for your aging loved ones but significantly enhancing their independence and overall quality of life.
Home safety checklist for fall prevention highlights:
- Bathroom Safety: Replace glass with non-shattering material, install handrails, use non-slip mats, and consider a walk-in bathtub or shower if possible.
- Kitchen Safety: Remove loose mats, place often-used items on lower shelves, and ensure the area is well-lit.
- Bedroom Safety: Keep the floor uncluttered, place a lamp or nightlight near the bed, and consider using monitoring devices and an adjustable bed.
- Stair/Step Safety: Repair broken steps, remove clutter, install lighting, and ensure handrails are on both sides of the stairs.
- Floor Safety: Remove obstacles, check and repair for loose or uneven flooring, avoid slippery surfaces, and ensure adequate lighting.
By investing time and effort in these changes, you can significantly lower the risk of falls in the home. Remember, each small step can make a big difference. Making these modifications is not just about safety; it’s about providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
The most common causes include cluttered floors, inadequate lighting, slippery surfaces (especially in bathrooms and kitchens), uneven surfaces, loose rugs or mats, and lack of handrails or support, especially in stairways and bathrooms.
Stairways can be made safer by installing sturdy handrails on both sides, adequate lighting, removing any clutter, and installing non-slip treads on the stairs. In some cases, chair lifts may also be a helpful addition.
To make kitchens safer, keep often-used items within easy reach to avoid climbing or overstretching, install good lighting, remove any loose mats, and immediately clean up any spills to prevent slipping. Keep fire extinguishers handy and in good working condition.
Yes, depending on the specific needs of the individual, additional modifications might be necessary. These could include wider doorways for wheelchair access, ramps to replace stairs, lowering the kitchen sink and counters, or installing seating for showers and tubs.
Amie Clark, BSW
Aging Advocate and Senior Care Expert
Amie has worked with older adults and their families for the past twenty-plus years of her career. Her senior care knowledge is based on her experience as a social worker, family caregiver, and senior care consultant. Learn more about Amie here.