As we get older, we may not be as nimble on our feet or as attentive to our surroundings as we once were. Senior safety is important as older people tend to be more accident-prone, and we don’t heal as fast as younger people. That means we have to be more careful about organizing our homes to make accidents less likely.
This article explores how seniors and their loved ones can reduce the risk of injuries caused by accidents, with a particular focus on fall-related injuries.
What to Do When an Elderly Person Keeps Falling
According to the CDC, falls are the most common cause of injury and injury-related death for people aged over 65. Falls can cause numerous injuries, from bruises and sprains to broken arms and hips. Over 300,000 Americans fracture a hip each year, and 95% of hip fractures result from a fall. But hip fractures are just the tip of the iceberg—every year, 3 million older people are treated for fall injuries.
However, falls are not a normal and acceptable part of aging. An older person who falls regularly is likely in need of help. The first step is to ensure they see a medical professional who can investigate the root cause.
Frequent falls may indicate orientation or balance problems, both symptoms of illnesses that should be diagnosed and treated. Limb weakness is another common contributor, and a medical professional will help you decide whether it’s time to get a walker or wheelchair.
If an older person often falls when getting in or out of bed, a home hospital bed with adjustable height can make it easier and safer, allowing seniors to live in their homes for longer.
Safety Hazards in the Home for the Elderly
You might think that seniors are most likely to be injured when driving or out in an unfamiliar environment. In fact, although older adults are more likely to be in a car accident, most accidents and injuries happen in the home. That’s why adapting a home for senior safety should be a priority.
Before exploring how you can make a home safe for elderly people, let’s look at some of the most common injuries and their causes.
- Arm, leg, shoulder, head, and back injuries are often caused by falls.
- Burns and scalds are typically the result of hot liquid spills and touching hot surfaces such as pans or fireplaces.
- Muscle and joint damage are caused by overexertion, stretching, or twisting. Ankle and wrist sprains and damage to the muscles around the groin are particularly prevalent.
- Accidental poisoning is not as common as other injuries, but the rate is higher among older people. The root cause is often carbon monoxide or natural gas poisoning, or accidental prescription medication overdoses.
7 Home Safety Tips For Seniors
We have seen the types of injury older people are most likely to suffer in the home. In our senior safety tips, we’ll explore what you can do to remove safety hazards and improve home safety for older adults.
Remove Clutter and Other Trip Hazards
Because falls are the leading cause of injury in seniors, removing trip hazards should be top of your list. An older person may be less likely to notice trip hazards and less able to prevent a serious fall if they do trip. Items that wouldn’t present a serious trip hazard to younger people may be a significant risk to older people with mobility, balance, and strength issues.
Trip hazards to look out for include:
- Clutter on the floor, including trash, dropped objects, discarded plates and cups, and children’s toys.
- Rugs. An older person may fall if they catch their foot under the rug’s edge, and rugs that are prone to bunching or curling should be removed immediately. Rugs that slip are another trip hazard to look out for, especially rugs on tile or slippery wooden floors.
- Extension cords and cables. Remove any cables that cross walkways or thresholds.
- Small furniture. Low tables and chairs should be positioned away from areas an older person is likely to walk across.
- Pets. Unfortunately, cats and dogs are frequently the cause of falls in older adults. We’ve all experienced a cat who seems determined to get underfoot, but older people may not have the reflexes and balance to avoid their furry friend.
Increase Lighting Throughout The House
Older people are often less able to adapt to low light conditions. Consequently, they may not see trip hazards, furniture, or other obstacles in a dark or semi-lit room. To help them find their way more easily, ensure that areas with potential hazards are well-illuminated with even lighting and minimal shadows.
Install Safety Ramps with Hand Rails
Older people often want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, but many American houses are not designed with accessibility in mind. Steps up to entryways are a particular problem. Even if an older person can still manage stairs, external steps can be dangerous if they are rained on or become icy in cold weather. Consider replacing entryway steps with safety ramps with a shallow gradient and handrails.
Make Sure Stairs Have Hand Rails or Consider Installing a Stair Lift
As you might expect, stairs present considerable risk. Ideally, older people with mobility issues would live in single-floor accommodation that does not require them to climb stairs to reach the bedroom and bathroom. But that’s not always feasible, so every effort should be made to ensure the stairs are as safe as possible.
If a senior can still climb their stairs, ensure that robust handrails are available on both sides. Handrails allow seniors to supplement their lower limb strength with their arms. They also help people who would otherwise struggle to balance unaided.
If a senior can no longer climb the stairs unaided, it may be time to fit a stairlift or a chair lift. We wrote in more detail about stairlifts in What to Know Before Buying a Stair Lift.
Create Space for Walkers and Wheelchairs
Adapting a home for an older adult is an ongoing process. As they age, their condition and capabilities change, and the living environment will have to change too. Failure to adapt can lead to dangerous situations in places that were once safe.
For example, if someone needs a mobility walker to move around their home, walkways need to provide enough space for the walker to pass without obstruction. If a walker gets caught on an obstacle, it can become a tripping hazard. The same is true of wheelchairs: if a wheelchair becomes stuck, the occupant may stand up and attempt to walk instead.
Install Grab Bars in Bathrooms
Bathroom safety for elderly people is a priority because many injuries are caused by slips and falls while using the toilet, shower, or bath. Ensure that grab rails are available anywhere extra support may be needed, especially around the toilet and the shower or bath.
If a senior struggles with a standard bath, it may be worth considering a walk-in bath—a topic we wrote about in The Pros and Cons of Walk-in Tubs for Seniors and What to Know Before Buying a Walk-in Bathtub.
Invest in a Home Hospital Bed
The next area to look at is the bedroom. Along with stairs and bathrooms, the bedroom can also be a danger zone for seniors. Getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and going to bed may not seem like high-risk activities, but they are leading causes of falls and sprains.
Many of the tips we’ve already given apply to the bedroom:
- Reduce clutter to remove tripping hazards.
- Make sure chairs and grab handles are available to provide support.
- Ensure the bedroom is well-lit and that light switches are easily accessible.
Installing a home hospital bed is another step that can improve senior safety and reduce the risk of injury. Adjustable beds make it easier and safer to get into and out of bed from the floor or a wheelchair, cutting the risk of falling.
Modern home hospital beds such as the Transfer Master Supernal 5 are designed to blend in with your bedroom decor while providing a full range of adjustments, including remote-controlled height, head, foot, and Trendelenburg adjustments.