Reducing the risk of falls at home is vital in extending health and longevity for any individual. Falls in the home carry a severe risk of injury and can even result in death. There are several simple ways to reduce your risk of injury from falling in your home.
In this article, we will address some of the many risks associated with at-home falls. We will also address the most common and attainable methods of decreasing the risk of these falls. Read on to discover the best way to ensure your -or a loved one’s- safety and security.
- Improving your balance
- Improving your strength
- Increasing your confidence
- Checking your vision
- Removing hazards in your home
- Utilizing assistive devices
- Managing your medications
- Utilizing medical alert systems
Reducing the Risks of Falls at Home
Falls at home are categorized as accidents causing injury, where the individual ends up on the ground or at a lower level than they were previously. This doesn’t include falls due to a stroke, seizure, or primary underlying medical incident resulting in the fall.
Improve Your Balance to Reduce Fall Risk
Balance issues can often cause falls. If you are often unsteady on your feet, this could result in a dangerous slip or fall. A good way to address balance issues or to increase an individual’s balance is by visiting a physical therapist or an occupational therapist to learn easy and practical exercises that you can do from home.
Other useful and practical options include:
- Tai Chi
- Balance exercises
- Hearing tests
Tai Chi to Improve Gives You strength
Tai Chi is a popular strength training and balance regimen, and studies show that it may result in decreased fall risk by increasing balance and stability. The Mayo Clinic recommends utilising in-person classes rather than books when learning Tai Chi to increase effectiveness and rule out any injuries from malpractice.
Walking to Improve Balance
Walking is a simple and effective exercise that is not only beneficial to the cardiovascular system but can help increase strength and balance within the lower extremities. This is a safe and easy exercise for many people regardless of fitness level.
Exercises to Improve Balance
Balance exercises from a general practitioner, physical therapist, or occupational therapist can aid in increased balance. These exercises are often practiced in-office but are usually encouraged to be practiced at home to increase efficacy.
Identify Hearing Issues to Improve Spatial Awareness
Hearing tests may uncover an underlying issue affecting balance. The inner ear canal is responsible for much of the body’s spatial awareness and sense of balance. Ear infections or hearing loss can greatly affect balance. If you feel that you may be suffering from either of these conditions, consult a doctor immediately.
Improve Your Strength to Reduce Fall Risk
Improving your overall strength, much like improving your balance, can lead to a decreased risk of falling. There are many options for improving strength at home or outside of the home.
Options for strength training include:
- Gym programs
- Day centres
- Regular exercise
Utilize Gym Programs to Increase Strength
Gym programs at your local exercise gym are a great way to socialize while enhancing your strength. Increased strength can reduce the risks of falls in the home. You may even pick-up exercises in these organized classes that can be done at home.
Utilize Resources at your Day Centre
Day centres often have many resources and classes for older people or the ageing population. If you find yourself in this demographic, check your local centre for tips and opportunities to address falls within the home. You may also learn effective exercises that don’t require additional gym equipment.
Engage in Regular Exercise
Regular exercise is vital in maintaining good health and avoiding injury. Whether in an organized class with an educated instructor, simply walking to and from the mailbox, or an extra trip around the block each day, it is important to maintain and build strength.
Whether by being able to catch yourself if slipping, or easily get up off of the floor in the event of a fall, strength training is a vital part of reducing the risk of injury by falls in your home.
Increase Your Confidence to Reduce Fall Risk
Often, when an individual has experienced a fall or is increasingly nervous about their likelihood of a fall, this increases anxiety. According to AOTA, when individuals suffer from an increased fear of falling, they may choose to avoid behaviours that are needed to maintain muscle mass and avoid falling in the first place.
Avoiding walking or other movements because of a fear of falling seems like a practical risk prevention strategy. Still, it can lead to muscle atrophy and a decrease in the ability to do certain tasks. Avoiding everyday tasks like walking because of a fear of falling can actually increase the risk of falls at home.
Occupational therapists are useful since they can assess in-home risk factors for falling as well as risk factors outside of the home. Professionals are often able to ease fears and increase the much-needed confidence to tackle everyday interactions and regain the confidence to increase mobility.
Have Your Vision Checked to Reduce Fall Risk
Tripping over unseen or blurry objects puts one at a high risk for a fall at home. If you or a loved one has trouble seeing, it is important to address this issue in order to mitigate the danger of injury. Examples of common vision issues that may increase fall risk are:
- Blurred vision
- Glare sensitivity
- Macular degeneration
A vision specialist will be able to run a series of tests to determine whether or not someone needs vision aids. To compensate for vision issues, contact lenses or glasses may be recommended.
Adjust Your Home to Reduce Fall Risk
There are many dangers that could be lurking within your home that can cause injury and falls.
The NHS offers several practical and easy adjustments to make within the home to decrease your fall risk. Things you can do to mitigate risk include:
- Readjust lighting to illuminate rooms/hallways/stairwells clearly
- Remove or attach rugs and carpets firmly to the floor
- Avoid wearing socks on slippery surfaces like tile or wood floors
- Remove or reattach wires and cords securely out of the way
- Utilize non-slip devices when available (under rugs, chair legs, etc.)
- Check stair rails for security and stability
- Clean up spills and messes on the floor immediately
- Have stability bars and handles installed in high-risk areas like the bathroom
In many community rehab centres, Occupational therapists, which are trained professionals that can do a “home hazard assessment” for individuals at risk for falls within the home. This can reduce the stress of checking for yourself or relying on a relative or neighbour to check the home for you.
Occupational Therapists will check every available area for hazards and also provide options to minimize existing risks. If you feel you may benefit from a home hazard assessment, check with your medical professional or GP for recommendations today.
Utilize Assistive Devices to Reduce Fall Risk
Assistive devices can be one of the most effective fall prevention strategies. These devices include:
- Mobility scooters
Individuals may be able to move around their homes more easily and with more confidence with the assistance of a cane or walker. Wheels may roll more easily over difficult terrain like tile or long carpet and provide a smoother method of transportation for those struggling with increased fall risk.
Below, we dive into these assistive devices more thoroughly.
Walkers as an Assistive Device
Walkers are a common device utilized to navigate the home and public areas. Often, walkers are a simple appliance with handles and four legs. Walkers are moved ahead of the individual as they walk, providing the stability that moved with the individuals. Most are able to fold flat and store easily in small spaces.
Mobility Scooters are Secure and Stable
Mobility scooters are also a common device. These scooters can appear similar to a moped or motorized bike, but often are slower and are not street legal. Larger versions of these are common in grocery stores to assist handicapped shoppers.
While they may be more difficult to manoeuvre in the household due to space restrictions, they are a secure and stable way to move around in areas where it may be difficult to maintain steady footing such as:
- Long distances
Canes as Give Stability
Canes are a common and simple assistive device for those looking for slightly more stability in their day-to-day movements. Canes take up very little space and come in many shapes and sizes, so it’s simple to find the most comfortable and ergonomic cane for your specific needs.
Canes may be a simple shepherd’s crook shape and are available with a wider base for increased stability, and they can also be adjusted to fit an individual’s height. Canes are also a much less noticeable tool than the rest of the items on this list, making for a sleeker and more unobtrusive experience.
Rollators Similar to Walkers with a Twist
Rollators are similar to walkers but differ in a few keyways. Rollators generally have four large wheels and two handles equipped with brakes like a bicycle. They usually fold up as well to enable easy storage but are often bulkier and heavier than a walker.
As opposed to walkers, rollators have a seat or padded surface to use for a chair when not walking. These are beneficial for individuals who may require frequent breaks to rest or simply want the added benefit of a seat with their assistive device. There is generally an option for storage beneath the seat, an added bonus.
Use Wheelchairs When Walking Long Distances
Wheelchairs are a commonly used assistive mobility device, though not generally the first choice for individuals. Wheelchairs are bulky and more of a permanent assistive device, or replacement device, than walkers or canes. They may be recommended for areas like airports or shopping malls, but likely a smaller device would be more beneficial to use in the home.
Often, individuals struggle with the utilization of these assistive devices. Some may feel as if they are losing their freedom or are ashamed to be admitting that they need help. On the contrary, these devices can increase freedom of movement and independence substantially for people at risk of home falls.
Managing Your Medications to Reduce Fall Risk
Many medications commonly prescribed in the aging population can cause dizziness and other side effects, which may increase the risk of falling at home. It is recommended to speak to your prescribing doctor about these concerns. There may be an alternate medication or an alternate dosage that can decrease your fall risk at home.
Some of the medications that may increase your fall risk, according to the Nice in the Uk and CDC in the USA include:
- Muscle relaxers
- Blood pressure medication
Each of these medications on their own may increase the fall risk at home. A combination of any of these medications may increase the risk even more. Your doctor will be able to assess the risk factors of each of these medications and may suggest a lower dose or discontinuing the medication altogether if it is becoming a danger.
Utilizing Medical Alert Systems
Avoiding a fall is not always possible. An individual could hypothetically take all the right precautions and still experience a dangerous fall. In these cases, having a medical alert system in place could mean the difference between life and death. Common medical alert systems include:
- Life Alert
- Pendant alarms
- Philips Lifeline
- Mobile Help
- Medical Alert
- One Call Alert
There are various options and methods available for medical alert systems. In general, these systems are designed to call for help when an individual has had a fall or is otherwise incapacitated and cannot reach a phone.
Within various medical alert systems, there are different varieties based on an individual’s needs. These may include:
- In home
- Fall detection
Medical Alert Systems for the Home
In home, devices are the most popular. Most of these systems include a waterproof bracelet or pendant that is worn in the home. These systems are connected to a landline, wireless internet, or a cell phone plan. The individual needs only to press the button on their pendant to summon emergency services or communicate with them.
Medical Alert Systems for Travel
Travel devices can be taken anywhere with a cellular connection. These are useful for hotel rooms or if visiting other friends or relatives. They run off of an existing cellular or wireless plan and are great for security and peace of mind while traveling. They operate similar to the in-home devices and often include a GPS monitoring device.
Medical Alert Systems for Fall Detection
Fall detection services are generally available to add on to any of these systems for a small additional fee. This is highly advantageous if someone falls and is rendered unconscious and unable to press the button for help. If a fall is detected, emergency services are automatically dispatched to the user.
There are a vast variety of add-ons and other useful features available, such as:
- Notifying a family member if a fall is detected
- Providing more than one device per household
- Keysafe with a key to allow the emergency service entry to the home
- Long distance/yard devices
- Caregiver communication systems to relay information to various team members
There are many options and existing consumer research containing lists of devices and the pros and cons of each, as well as prices, ratings, ranges, and available add-ons. Medical alert systems often are a monthly subscription varying from £15 a month to upwards of £100 (or more) monthly with additional features.
No matter the type of chosen medical alert system, it’s safe to say these are useful in bringing peace of mind to the users and their loved ones.
If an elderly relative or loved one is living alone or spends long periods alone, their risk for magnified health issues and injuries after a fall can increase. There is always a chance that the individual may experience a fall and will not be able to call for help immediately.
With a medical alert system, this issue can be resolved, and help will arrive more quickly.
The Dangers of Falling at Home
The World Health Organization reports that slips and falls are the second leading cause of accidental and unintentional deaths worldwide. Additionally, the vast majority of these fatalities are in adults over 65 years of age. The dangers of falling at home include:
- Blood loss
- Increased anxiety
- Brain and spinal injuries
With these staggering statistics and many possible injuries, it’s important to know how to best reduce the risk of falls at home. It’s also important to note that all risk-reducing activities and methods should be approved by a doctor, and this article does not replace or compensate for official medical advice.
The Importance of Reducing Fall Risks at Home
With the frequency of falls and the range of injuries possible with an at-home fall, it’s incredibly important to identify, manage, and decrease the risk of falls in the home. There are many options to do so, and hopefully, this list has sparked a few ideas for the increased safety for yourself or a loved one.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this Blog article are not intended to amount to advice, and you should not rely on any of the contents of this Blog article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this Blog article. OccupationaltherapyBlog disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this Blog article.