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Adult Care: 9 Ways to Prevent Trips and Falls

Written by 
Caroline Bodian

Article at a glance

  • Wear shoes that fit and prevent slipping. To learn more about the right shoes, read this section.
  • Keep physically active to improve balance and coordination. For more on exercise, read this section.

  • Talk to your doctor about how to prevent falls. To learn more, read this section.

  • Assistive devices help seniors get around safely or call for outside help if needed. To learn more, read this section.

  • Improve safety inside your home by removing clutter. For more on making your home safer, read this section.

  • Some eyeglass lenses can distort distance. To learn more about wearing the right glasses, read this section.

  • Get regular checkups, take vitamins and keep active to prevent falls. To learn more, read this section.

  • Keep your outdoor space free of hazards. To learn more about how to do this, read this section.

  • If you fall at home, wear a personal alarm to get help. To learn more about what to do if you fall at home, read this section.

Every year, about 36 million older adults, that’s one out of four senior citizens in the United States, will fall. This makes falling one of the top causes of injury in the 65+ age group. Falls are a major public health concern, but that doesn’t mean they’re inevitable for aging adults. In fact, there are plenty of ways to prevent falls. One of the most significant steps to preventing falls, especially if you’ve fallen before, is to talk to your doctor and assess your health concerns. Your doctor might recommend decreasing certain medications, making changes to your diet, or engaging in gentle physical activity. Just as important as keeping your body healthy is maintaining a safe home that’s free from clutter and other items that could potentially cause injury. Consider what you can remove and what you can add — like handrails or a shower seat — to make your home safer.

Wear proper footwear

Comfortable, sensible shoes are not only good for fall prevention, they’re easier on the joints. Avoid wearing floppy shoes, shoes with slippery soles, and high heels and don’t wear socks without shoes around the house. Your shoes should be sturdy, fit properly, and have non-skid soles.

Keep physically active

Physical activity can help improve balance, strength, coordination and flexibility. Talk to your doctor about which exercises are safe for you to try. Some examples of gentle exercises include walking, tai chi, yoga and water workouts. If you’re avoiding exercise because you’re worried it may cause a fall, discuss this with your doctor, who may recommend that you work with a physical therapist to design a monitored workout plan. With your doctor’s permission, you can also try to incorporate doing balance exercises throughout your day, such as standing with one foot in front of the other while brushing your teeth. If you’re not sure where to begin to keep physically active, joining an easy walking” group may be a good place to start.

Talk to your doctor

Talking to your doctor about fall prevention is key, especially if you’ve fallen before. First, tell your doctor which medications you’re taking, because the side effects of certain medications can increase the likelihood of a fall. Next, if you’ve fallen before, write down all the details of the fall: Where were you? How did you fall? Have you had any instances of losing your balance and almost falling? These details can help your doctor formulate a strategy to prevent future falls. Finally, discuss your health conditions, as those can also cause falls. Certain eye and ear disorders, for example, can increase the risk of falling.

Use assistive (helpful) devices

Simple devices that can help you get around (called assistive” devices) include common tools like canes and walkers, which can help you stay steady. Discuss with your doctor which devices are best for you. Options include:

  • A plastic seat for inside the shower or tub (and a hand-held shower nozzle to use if sitting down)

  • An elevated (higher-than-normal) toilet seat

  • Non-slip treads for stairs

  • Handrails on both sides for stairways

  • Grab-bars for the shower or bathtub

There are also plenty of technological devices to help older adults who have fallen. Wearable fall detectors, for example, can be carried as a pendant around the neck or as a watch or bracelet and use advanced sensors to detect falls, sending alerts to family members and emergency services. Another technological tool that could help prevent falls is vibrating insoles for shoes, which can help improve balance. 

Your doctor may refer you to an occupational therapist to help you devise fall-prevention devices and installations.

Improve safety inside your home

You can improve safety inside your home by making sure you have adequate lighting: use night lights in all rooms, place a lamp within reach of your bed, turn lights on before going up or down stairs, keep flashlights all around the house and consider getting illuminated light switches.

Other things you can do to improve safety inside the home include:

  • Keep all spaces neat and free of clutter

  • Make sure rugs are secured to the floor 

  • Avoid small area rugs or throw rugs, which are easier to trip on

  • If you do have mats and rugs, secure them with adhesive strips 

  • Clean up spills as soon as they happen and don’t walk on recently washed floors

  • Ensure that beds and chairs are easy to get into and out of

  • Place commonly used items within easy reach

  • Remove any electrical cords, phone cords or boxes from walkways

If you’re unsure of how to make your home safer, talk to an occupational therapist for advice.

Wear the right glasses

Make sure to get your eyes checked regularly so that you have the correct prescription. It’s also important to note that bifocal and progressive lenses may increase your chances of falling. If you wear bifocals or progressive lenses, walk more carefully and slowly when you are wearing them. Single-vision glasses are best for preventing falls, so if you have single-vision glasses, wear them for walking around and save your bifocals for reading.

Improve safety outside your home

Safety outside your home is just as important as safety inside the home when it comes to fall prevention. To improve safety outside your home, you could:

  • Walk on grass if the sidewalk looks unsafe (cracked, uneven, etc.)

  • Avoid wearing flip-flops on sidewalks, even on hot summer days, and wear flat-heeled, rubber-soled shoes

  • Clear away anything lying around the yard, such as garden tools

  • Make sure there’s good lighting outside

  • Repair any uneven or cracked surfaces in sidewalks, patios, porches, and stairs

Install grab-rails where needed outside

Maintain your health

One of the most important things you can do to avoid falling is to maintain your health. That means staying physically active, going for regular checkups (especially to your ophthalmologist to get your eyes checked and a podiatrist to get your feet checked), sticking to a healthy, balanced diet and managing your medications. You should make sure you’re getting enough of your essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, to increase muscle strength. You’ll also want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids, as dehydration can be a cause of dizziness. Additionally, you may want to consider limb or hip protectors to guard against fractures.

What to do if you fall at home

If you do fall at home:

  • Try not to panic and wait a few minutes to catch your breath and calm down.

  • Decide whether you’re too hurt to get up — getting up too soon could worsen the injury.

  • If you have a personal alarm, use your emergency button or smart watch to get outside assistance.

  • If you can get up, roll onto your stomach and crawl to a stable piece of furniture.

  • Get onto your knees, then push up on the furniture to sit or stand if you can.

Make sure to visit your doctor to be examined for injuries and to check whether there was an underlying cause for the fall. Think about which technological devices, such as alert pendants or smart watches, you can use to easily get help if you’ve fallen. You should also consider carrying a portable or mobile phone with you in case you need to call somebody for assistance. Again, you should visit your doctor to check for injuries.

Falling when older is no small matter. One in every five falls causes an injury (broken bones, head injury), and each year more than 300,000 older people are hospitalized with hip fractures. While injuries usually heal, it’s best to try to prevent falls altogether. Talking to your doctor, maintaining your health, and keeping a safe home are great places to start. You or your loved one should also be well-equipped with technology that sends out an alert in the event of a fall. This can be an alert button attached to a pendant or wristband, or a smart watch that detects falls. A smart watch can also measure important information, such as heart rate, to help you keep track of your health and assist in elderly fall prevention. If you feel that your fear of falling is limiting your life too much, talk with your doctor who can give you advice on preventing falls while maintaining a healthy quality of life.

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