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Elderly Falls - 5 Top Risk Factors & Prevention Tips

Judy KamandeFeb 21, 2014

How Common Are Elderly Falls?

Among US residents over the age of 65, elderly falls are the single most common cause of trips to the emergency room. For seniors over 75, the consequences of a fall are statistically even more severe, as the risk of a fall-related death increases dramatically. A medical alert system can save precious time when a potentially life-threatening fall occurs.

It’s easy to think that you’ll never experience a fall, but the sad reality is that one in three seniors will fall this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also estimate that 2.5 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for falls every year, leading to some steep medical costs–not to mention the physical and emotional damage experienced.  

While people typically think of falls as a major concern for more mobile seniors who live independently, seniors living in partially assisted living, who might not receive 24/7 around the clock monitoring, are far from risk exempt. If there's a chance a senior could fall & not be found for over an hour, the damage done from a delayed response is often irreparable & means hugely diminished quality of life.     

The Facts on Senior Falls 

  • 62% of elderly victims who don't receive help within an hour won't be able to live independently after hospitalization. 
  • 90% of seniors who aren't helped within 6 hours will have to live in a nursing home. 
  • 70% of accidental deaths in the US are caused by senior falls.
  • $19,000 is the average cost per incident of a senior fall injury.

 The Golden Hour - Why getting help in the 1st hour matters 

Image Source: via Bay Alarm Medical


6 Common Risk Factors for Senior Falls

According to research and data from the National Safety Council (NSC) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), some of the main risk factors associated with falls amongst the elderly are:

  1. Recurring Falls: A history of falls is associated with an increased risk of recurring falls. If an elderly person has already fallen once they are more likely to fall again.
  2. Age: Risk of falling increases with age, especially for older women.
  3. Living alone: Elderly adults who live alone tend to have greater ability to function. However,  when you live alone, injuries from falls can be worse especially if the fall results in the person getting stuck on the floor, unable to get up.
  4. Medications: Many medications can be associated with increased risk of falling especially if an elderly person is taking multiple medications at once.
  5. Slippery Surfaces: The most common areas of the home where falls occur are bathrooms & kitchens. Any floor area that is susceptible to water accumulation is potentially dangerous. 
  6. Home Layout: While most falls occur in the bathroom, they also happen in any room where there are uneven surfaces, rugs w/abrupt edges, poor lighting or objects in commonly used pathways (i.e. between the bedroom & bathroom, on the way from the living room to the kitchen, etc.). 


Fall Prevention Checklist

While medical alert systems help improve response time and save precious minutes in a life-threatening emergency, we can't stress the benefits of a preventative measures enough. You simply can't put a price on being prepared when dealing with the care of a loved one. 

Here are some of the best things you can do to help prevent the chances of a fall:

  • Talk to your doctor: This is the first thing you should do. Your doctor will be able to pinpoint your risk of falling based on a variety of factors. This is also the time to mention if you have had any other previous falls, review medications that may affect your balance, and get your hearing and vision checked out.
  • Use bathroom mats: Place non-slip mats over slippery bathroom surfaces, including showers & bathroom floor tiles. Be sure to place added emphasis on "fall proofing" the shower & bathroom floor, as most senior falls take place in the bathroom.  
  • Fall-proof your home: For many seniors, sitting down or standing up can be a challenge. Because of the high number of bathroom accidents among seniors, installing raised toilet seats can make using the bathroom safer and easier. Incorporating grab bars and other supportive structures, both in the shower & next to toilets, as well as throughout the home, are a great way to help prevent falls in high risk, frequently used areas of the home.
  • Exercise: We've heard it a thousand times, if we've heard it once, but regular exercise matters for fall prevention as much as it does for cardiovascular health. More frequent walks, ideally 2-3 walks daily, help seniors engage important stabilizer muscles in their core & legs, which in turn make for less shaky strides. Additionally, the fear of falling can cause seniors to be less active, which increases the possibility of their fears coming true. Another option is an exercise program that builds up your balance, strength and flexibility, such as Tai Chi. When exercising, why not bring a friend along? This is a great way to socialize and ensure your safety!
  • Use assistive devices: Regular exercise is hugely important. However, for seniors suffering from declining muscle strength, assistive sometimes devices are recommended. Walkers and wheelchairs, for example, are just some of the devices that can facilitate movement while reducing the risk for falls.
  • Update corrective vision: Are the senior's glasses prescriptions up to date? If not, visit an optometrist to make sure corrective vision needs are being met. This is a commonly overlooked preventative measure that can help massively.   
  • Improve in-home lighting: Falls can certainly be the result of a miscalculated step due to poor eyesight. However, improving lighting can improve visual acuity, too. Ensure that rooms and passages are well lit to help seniors move freely without danger of tripping from unseen objects. Installing night-lights & motion sensors are popular energy efficient ways to add light to low-light areas of the home. 
  • Consider sleeping downstairs: Switching to a first floor room can be a bitter pill to swallow for a proud senior who has always slept in an upstairs bedroom, but it does help reduce the risks of falling down stairs. Stair falls are, for obvious reasons, among the most serious. 
  • Install Stairlifts and Wheelchair Lifts: Falls often occur when one pushes themselves past their limits. Installing assisted mobility devices within the home offers multi-level living and is surprisingly affordable and unobtrusive when properly done. 
  • Talk to your family members. Although millions of older adults fall every year, less than half tell their doctor or family. This is unfortunate as your family members can most help you implement all the above recommendations. After all, they care about your safety and well-being above everything else. 

Following these fall prevention tips does not mean that you’ll lose your independence in any way – it simply encourages you to be on the lookout for anything in your daily life that may be a safety hazard. In the end, these preventative measures will help you live a longer and safer life. Our team of editors has reviewed the 10 Best Medical Alert Systems, comparing price, communication range, alert hardware quality, and monitoring services to help you make an informed decision.