According to the NHS, falls are a common but overlooked cause of injury, with around one in three adults over 65 and half of people over 80 having at least one fall a year. So, if you find yourself worrying about the risk of yourself or a loved one falling in day-to-day life, then you aren’t alone. In fact, a 2019 survey commissioned by Age UK found that, for 4.3 million people across the country, falling topped their list of concerns.
The consequences of falling can also become more serious with age, particularly if you factor in long-term health conditions like heart disease, dementia, or low blood pressure, which can cause dizziness and loss of consciousness.
With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with Taking Care, the UK’s first Which? approved personal alarm service. They’ve written an expertly-crafted, comprehensive guide that you can download for free, which includes a wide range of advice on how to prevent falls.
To give you a taste of what you can expect in this guide, we’ve put together a short list of five tips for fall-proofing your or your loved one’s home…
What are the consequences of falling?
The main consequence of falling is, of course, injury. And while the majority of falls don’t lead to serious injury or death (the CDC in the US estimates that four out of five don’t), they can, unfortunately, result in fractured or broken bones or head injuries.
Each year, fall-related emergency hospital admissions among patients over 65 reach nearly a quarter of a million in England, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide.
But the consequences of falls aren’t limited to physical harm. Falls can also have a range of social and psychological effects. For example, when someone suffers a serious fall, it’s common for them to experience a loss of confidence due to a fear of falling again.
This may cause them to become less active and more withdrawn (up to 50% of those who fear falling limit social activities) – which can have a negative impact on their strength and balance and may increase the risk of future falls as a result.
What can someone do to prevent a fall?
It’s worth bearing in mind that it only takes one fall to have serious consequences – so it’s never too late to start thinking about how you can protect yourself or your loved ones…
Overall health is the first thing to consider, as this can affect the risk of falling and how likely a person is to suffer a serious injury as a result.
With that said, it’s generally advised for someone who’s concerned about falling to stay as active as possible to maintain and improve their strength and balance. There’s a wide range of exercises and activities that can help with this – such as yoga and tai chi.
You can find out more about how staying active can improve strength and balance, and reduce the risk of falling, in Taking Care’s free Falls Prevention Guide.
It’s also worth thinking about living environment. Taking Care tells us that between 30% and 50% of falls are caused by environmental factors, such as poor visibility and trip hazards. And since the vast majority of these happen at home, it can be a good idea to consider how you can make your or your relative’s living space as fall-proof as possible.
5 tips for fall-proofing a home
1. Consider investing in non-slip mats and tread
When fall-proofing a home, it can be helpful to start by thinking about floor surfaces – particularly the bathroom.
The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. In fact, according to research, more than a third of injuries happen while washing or showering – and falls in the bathroom are more than twice as likely to cause injury compared to places like the living room. This is mainly due to slippery, hard surfaces like tiled floors and porcelain baths and showers.
Therefore, it can be helpful to modify these surfaces to help prevent falls, such as by using non-slip mats.
Some non-slip mats are made to be placed inside the shower or bath, and others are meant to sit on the floor outside it. So, if you’re particularly concerned about yourself or your loved one falling in the bathroom, it might be worth investing in one of each. This will help provide some traction when getting in and out of the bath or shower and moving across surfaces, even with wet feet.
Because non-slip mats don’t move as easily as regular mats, you might also want to consider using them throughout the rest of the home. For instance, Taking Care recommend placing non-slip mats under any loose rugs to prevent them from sliding around.
If you or your loved one has stairs inside the house or out in the garden, then you can also use anti-slip tread. These are adhesive strips of grippy material that can be stuck to surfaces like wood or concrete to give you some extra traction. They can also help to distinguish each step more easily – which can reduce the risk of missing one and tripping.
2. Install handrails and grab bars where helpful
Handrails and grab bars are other excellent features to add to a home to reduce the risk of falling.
Like bathrooms, stairways are another part of a person’s home that can be particularly risky for falls. This is because it’s easier to trip on a staggered floor and to end up falling further than on a level floor.
By installing handrails on both sides of the stairs and remembering to use them when travelling up and down, balance can be greatly improved and the impact of any falls lessened.
Grab bars can also be installed in baths, showers, and beside toilets to help with standing up and sitting down.
Though it may seem obvious, it’s important to make sure that handrails and grab bars are properly installed and are in good condition. So, if you don’t feel confident installing them yourself, or you don’t know anyone who can, then it’s best to get a professional to do it.
You can search for handyperson services here on the Age UK website.
3. Think about the lighting
Poor visibility is a common cause of falls in and around the home – especially for those who have poor eyesight. But luckily, there are a wide variety of lighting solutions that people can implement throughout their homes to prevent tripping up in the dark.
If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know falling, then it’s best to make sure that spaces are brightly lit – particularly in more dangerous areas like the bathroom, stairs, and kitchen.
This may involve using the highest wattage lightbulb that’s available for your or your loved one’s fixtures (most light fixtures will have this number written on them). Alternatively, if you want long-lasting light that also conserves as much energy as possible, then you can use a compact fluorescent or LED bulb.
Lots of falls occur when people wake up in the middle of the night and get out of bed to use the bathroom or get a glass of water. So, it’s worth keeping a lamp or nightlight by the bed, in the bathroom, and even in the hallway between the two. It’s also a good idea to keep a torch by the bed in case of a power outage.
Other popular lighting solutions include making sure there are light switches at either end of stairs and long hallways, as well as using glow-in-the-dark light switch plates or stickers. These don’t require any energy to light and help people to find light switches in the dark.
4. Try to limit clutter and keep walkways clear
Throughout our lives, we tend to collect a lot of stuff, and tripping on clutter is a common cause of falls. So, making sure walkways are clear and clutter is kept to a minimum is important when thinking about your or your loved one’s safety around the home.
Between chargers, cables, extension leads, etc, the modern household has lots of wires knocking around, and these can be a dangerous trip hazard.
Therefore, it’s important that wires, like phone chargers, are put away after use. If this isn’t possible – for lamp or WiFi router cables, for example – then using cable clips or tubing to pin wires to the skirting board is a good way to keep them tucked out of the way.
It can also help to keep furniture and other fixtures well out of the way of walkways – as things like low coffee tables and chairs can become tripping hazards. And if you’re buying new furniture for someone who’s a fall risk, then try to be mindful about your purchases – as some can pose more of a threat than others. Glass furniture, for instance, can be harder to see.
Another trip hazard that we tend to forget about is our pets! Dogs, cats, and other small creatures can often get under our feet and cause falls. One way to reduce the risk of pet-related falls is to make sure that they have a bell on their collar. This makes it easier for us to know if our furry friends are around.
5. Be mindful about moving around the home
Being mindful about how you or your loved one moves around and interacts with the home can also be a great way to reduce the risk of falling. For example, lots of people tend to walk around barefoot at home.
However, according to research, going barefoot (or even wearing socks or slippers) may actually lead to a higher risk of falling. Instead, experts recommend wearing a well-fitting shoe with a low heel and slip-resistant sole at home. This can prevent both falls and a wide range of foot-related conditions – so it’s a win-win.
Other things to consider are cleaning up spillages straight away, as well as making regularly-used items easily accessible. Lots of falls result from people straining to get things from high or difficult-to-reach places, such as high kitchen cabinets.
If you or a loved one need to regularly reach for things that are in awkward places, then why not think about investing in a reacher grabber?
Although there are plenty of things you can do to try and fall-proof your home or the home of a loved one, it’s impossible to account for every possibility. So, to reassure you that help will be at hand if a fall does happen, you could also consider installing a personal alarm.
A personal alarm is worn like a necklace or a watch. And when the wearer falls, the alarm will automatically call Taking Care’s UK-based 24-hour Emergency Resolution Team. They’ll know who’s on the other end, even if the wearer is unable to speak.
The Emergency Resolution Team will then call friends, family, or the emergency services if necessary.
Being able to signal for help in this way quickly doesn’t only provide the wearer with the confidence to enjoy life to the fullest; it can also stop an accident from turning into an emergency, especially in winter when homes and gardens can become very cold.
To find out more about how to reduce the risk of falling, as well as lots of information about personal fall alarm systems, you can download Taking Care’s free Falls Prevention Guide.