How to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls

With a third of people age 65 and older reporting a fall each year and two-thirds of that number falling again within six months, falling poses a significant risk to seniors in their daily lives. In fact, falling is the most common cause of injury-related deaths in those age 65 and older and leads to the majority of their lifetime injury costs.1 Falling can cause traumatic injuries, most commonly hip fractures, which often lead to hip replacement surgery. These joint implants, while becoming more and more common, have dangers associated with the many recent hip replacement recalls.  The risk of hip fracture dramatically increases with age: among people 65 to 69, one out of every 200 falls causes a hip fracture, a number that jumps to one out of every 10 falls in people 85 and older.2 Shockingly, a fourth of those who fracture their hip die within 6 months.3 While that statistic is affected by a variety of factors, not least of which is the age of the individual involved, hip fractures are serious injuries and all care possible should be taken to minimize the risk.

Fear of falling causes many elderly people to restrict their day-to-day activities, but drastic steps aren’t always needed. Many falls can be avoided by taking action to secure areas in and around the home, allowing people to continue to lead the lives they want to without fear.

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UNDERSTAND THE CAUSES

The first step toward preventing falls is understanding what causes them.

  • Spills are a significant hazard, particularly in places like kitchens or bathrooms with tile floors that become slick when wet. Spills can also be difficult to see.
  • Weather hazards such as snow and ice, or even just rainwater, create slippery surfaces and uncertain footing. Snow or ice falling from a rooftop can hit or startle someone, potentially causing a fall.
  • Wet or oily floors, whether due to a spill, water from the tub, snow or rain tracked into the house, or something else, can be dangerously slippery.
  • Loose or uneven flooring, including loose tile or the unsecured edge of a carpet or area rug, can catch a foot and cause someone to stumble.
  • Dim lighting makes it difficult to see objects to avoid, particular for individuals with declining eyesight.
  • Clutter places hazards in the way of people who may be at risk of falling. Shoes, pet toys, or virtually anything else can cause someone to trip, and even a small stumble is enough to cause a fall, especially in someone whose mobility and reflexes are limited by age.

KNOW WHERE TO LOOK

The next step is knowing places where hazards most often occur, and where seniors are most likely to encounter them.

  • Living spaces, because they are heavily trafficked, carry a variety of risks. Bedrooms and hallways may be prone to clutter or loose carpets, while bathrooms and kitchens often have spills or other liquids on the floor. Pay special attention to stairs, as they can be difficult for seniors to navigate even under ideal conditions and can also lead to the most damaging falls.
  • Outdoor walkways can be especially hazardous. They are prone to buildups of ice and snow and may become slick with rain. Heavily trafficked routes pose even more of a risk–not only will seniors encounter potential hazards more often, familiarity can lead to carelessness.
  • Garages, often used as a catch-all storage space, are often cluttered and badly lit, a dangerous combination.

Gardens and yards, while an excellent source of exercise and fresh air, can be risky too. Grass and mud can conceal uneven ground, tree roots, garden implements left outside, or other potential causes of a fall. And while a fall on grass may not seem as bad as one on asphalt, it can still cause serious injury.

  1. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10242.html 

  2. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10242.html 

  3. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html