If you’ll be visiting some older relatives for the holidays, make a point of following these fall prevention interventions to keep their homes safe.
Especially now that it’s getting darker and colder!
All this reuniting and celebrating together can also bring chances to spot and fix household hazards that could raise an older person’s risk of suffering a fall this winter and beyond.
It’s also a great time to shop for fall prevention equipment for elderly relatives, which can make for perfect holiday gifts items.
As a recent University of Michigan poll shows, older adults’ risk of falling may be increasing, due to less physical activity, less mobility and more isolation.
Evidence-based fall prevention programs have amassed oodles of data, and researchers are well aware of where the low-hanging fruit is in terms of slip and fall prevention techniques that will make a difference in (older) people’s homes.
Table of Contents
- Easy fixes
- The top 8 senior fall prevention interventions you can introduce this holiday season
- 1. Securing the throw rugs and bath mats
- 2. Bathroom railings and walk-in shower doors
- 3. Brighter lighting is an easy form of fall prevention technology
- 4. A folding step stool to fetch things
- 5. Keeping the ice and snow under control
- 6. Clear out the clutter
- 7. The right indoor shoes or slippers make great holiday gifts
- 8. Stop pets from becoming a trip hazard
The top 8 senior fall prevention interventions you can introduce this holiday season
1. Securing the throw rugs and bath mats
If an older person has small throw rugs and mats around their house, these can present a major fall risk. Get a roll of non-skid material, cut pieces to fit each item, and place it underneath.
If they have non-skid material under rugs already, check to see if it’s still gripping the floor and rug – the “stickiness” can wear off over time.
Throw rugs and mats shouldn’t be placed on top of carpeting, just bare floors.
Bath mats should have rubber backing that’s in good condition.
If it’s cracked or worn away, it’s time to get a new bath mat. Perhaps you can even splurge on a really good one as a holiday gift.
2. Bathroom railings and walk-in shower doors
Water on hard floors makes bathrooms fall-prone areas for many people.
As such, there’s no better room to apply some easy “slip trip and fall prevention” fixes.
If an older person has a tub/shower combination for bathing, stepping up and over the tub wall to get into and out of it requires special care.
A grab-rail, either permanently installed or one that uses strong suction cups to stick to the walls of the tub stall, can help greatly.
So can a rubber mat with suction cups on the tub floor.
Just like bath mats outside the tub, these mats should be replaced when they’re not gripping well anymore.
For people who have trouble balancing on one foot, or standing for any length of time, a stool with non-skid feet in the tub can be helpful.
If there’s a possibility of renovating the home to remove a tub and install a walk-in shower stall, this is a great time to discuss it and start calling potential contractors.
Shower stalls and walk-in tubs with doors reduce fall risk – though they still have thresholds that can trip an older person up.
Taking action now may be a key factor in helping an older person, especially one with balance or mobility issues, remain in their home as they age.
3. Brighter lighting is an easy form of fall prevention technology
Dark hallways, stairways, closets with high shelves, and outdoor steps can all be fall-risk areas.
Take time to install brighter light bulbs – including long-life LED bulbs that won’t need replacing for years – or even to put in new fixtures that take multiple bulbs.
Add motion sensors so lights come on automatically when someone enters the area or approaches the door.
That’s especially handy if it’s dark or they’re carrying something, and don’t want to have to reach for the switch.
“Smart home” systems, which are becoming more common and less expensive, can control many home functions from a smartphone app – for instance, to turn on lights before a person comes home at night, or goes up or down the stairs.
Nightlights that light up automatically when it gets dark, or have a motion sensor, can help light the way to the bathroom at night.
4. A folding step stool to fetch things
Ask the older person how they reach things on high shelves, or climb up to change a lightbulb, a clock or the smoke alarm batteries.
If they say they usually drag over a chair or a small stool and stand on it to reach above their head, this is not ideal.
In that case, one of the best fall prevention devices you can get them is a folding step stool or step ladder, preferably one with multiple steps and a high rail to grab while climbing up.
Work with them to reorganize their storage to bring items lower on shelves, even if they’re only used a couple of times a year.
Give the gift of time to help someone reorganize, declutter and put heavy items in lower drawers and shelves — it can be a great chance to talk and catch up.
Give a gift of double safety: a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector with built-in batteries that last 10 years, so there’s no yearly climb up a ladder to change the battery.
Check railings along stairways and porch steps, to make sure they’re securely fastened to the wall or posts.
If the steps themselves are slippery, add friction with stick-on traction strips.
If an older person stores holiday decorations in an attic, basement or upstairs room, offer to help bring them to the main floor.
Offer to help put up outdoor holiday lights together, reducing the chance of a fall from a ladder.
5. Keeping the ice and snow under control
Slips and falls during the winter months can be especially hazardous, even if the older person doesn’t live in a cold climate.
Make sure they have an ample supply of de-icer or sand to use on their steps, walkway and driveway.
For people who can’t easily lift a heavy jug, transfer the de-icer or sand to a container with a lid and add a scoop so they can scatter it more easily.
Make sure the snowblower is in good working order and that snow shovels and car scrapers and brushes are close at hand, and in good shape so they will be most effective.
Get a new shovel with a back-saving handle to provide more stability when shoveling and prevent muscle strains that can reduce mobility.
For anyone planning to go for walks in the winter weather, boots with good treads or removable rubber-and-metal gripper devices can add traction.
Make sure outdoor lights work, and have automatic sensors that come on when a car pulls in the driveway or garage.
Check doormats to make sure they won’t slip.
Clean out gutters above entranceways so melting snow doesn’t collect on steps and form ice.
6. Clear out the clutter
Tripping on small furniture or decorations, or items left on stairs or floors, is a common cause of falls, especially if someone is carrying a laundry basket or other large item and can’t see the trip hazard.
During a holiday visit, offer to help an older person move things around to clear wider paths to walk, free from obstructions.
Set up a basket for storing items at the bottom and top of stairs, so they aren’t left lying on a step or landing.
7. The right indoor shoes or slippers make great holiday gifts
Slippers and shoes to wear around the house with good treads, not slippery bottoms, make great holiday gifts.
Wearing shoes or slippers with grip inside the home, rather than socks or bare feet, is a great way to reduce fall risk.
Also, make sure there’s a chair or bench inside the entrance that’s used most often, giving a place to sit to remove outdoor shoes and put on slippers or indoor shoes.
8. Stop pets from becoming a trip hazard
Past U-M polls found that older adults get a lot of enjoyment and companionship from having pets, and that 1 in 10 people over 50 have gotten pandemic pets.
But pets can also bring trip and fall hazards.
Check to see that pets’ water and food bowls and beds, and cats’ litter boxes, don’t get in the way on the floor.
For dog owners, retractable leashes can give more flexibility in case the eager pet wants to get out the door and their owner gets tangled in the leash.
Put bells on cats’ collars so their owners can hear when they are nearby.