Preventing Falls in The Home for Older Adults
We often think of our homes as a safe refuge from the world. However, as we age, the condition of our homes can be the cause of serious injuries.
Falls in the home are the leading cause of both non-fatal and fatal injuries among older people. It's estimated that one out of three older adults experiences a fall each year. Falls are also the leading cause of injury-related death in adults 65 or older.
Homeowners vs. Older Adults In The Home
Tripping hazards pose a problem for both the owner of the home and any older adult living or visiting the home. The homeowner has a duty of care to anyone in their home. They must follow basic home safety and fix dangerous conditions. If they don't, they could face an expensive personal injury or premises liability lawsuit.
On the other hand, any visitor or resident of the home should be able to expect safe conditions. Any older adult living in or visiting your home falls under the “eggshell plaintiff doctrine." This law says a defendant is responsible for damages they cause another person — even if that person is considered fragile. You can read about a case like this on FindLaw's Law and Daily Life blog.
A homeowner might feel it's unfair to accommodate such a fragile person in their home. But it also protects them if the roles are ever reversed or someday when they might become extra susceptible to injury.
The public policy behind this legal doctrine is to encourage safety and prevent injury in the home, regardless of one's physical or mental condition.
Legal Issues Related To Falling in Your Home
If you have older adults living in your home or visiting your home, it's important to ensure that your home will be safe for them. Taking fall prevention steps can avoid costly medical bills and possibly being held liable in a personal injury case.
You may also be legally obligated to prevent injuries in your home, depending on the laws of your state.
In many jurisdictions, you may have a duty to:
- Warn visitors of any known dangerous conditions
- Inspect your home
- Repair or warn about new dangerous conditions you discover
For more information on your obligation to prevent injuries in your home, see FindLaw's Property Owners' Legal Duty to Prevent Injury article.
Legal Considerations: Personal Injury Cases
Given the severity of injuries resulting from a fall, you could face a personal injury lawsuit. Even if a family member or loved one falls, they may feel bad about a lawsuit but need to pursue a case to win damages. They may need to cover:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Ongoing physical therapist work
- Health care provider appointments
- Installation of fall prevention aids such as non-slip mats, handrails, etc. to prevent an additional fall
A lawsuit might be essential for expensive cases like a traumatic brain injury. Loved ones may feel it's necessary to file a wrongful death claim if the victim died from the fall.
Fall-Related Injury Facts
Older adults have a higher fall risk due to factors such as:
- Diminished bone mass and muscle strength
- Loss of balance
- Reduced flexibility
- Weakened vision
Along with being more susceptible to falling, adults over 65 are also more likely to suffer serious injuries from falls. Common fall-related injuries for older adults include:
- Broken bones (spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand)
- Head traumas (traumatic brain injuries, concussions, etc.)
Even if an older person isn't seriously injured in a fall, the resulting fear of falling often causes them to reduce their activities and mobility. This reduction in physical activities inadvertently increases their risks of falling again as their muscles grow weaker with non-use.
Tips for Protecting Against Falls At Home
Regular exercise programs, particularly those that increase leg strength and balance, can help prevent older adults from experiencing harmful falls. It is also helpful to wear shoes at home as slippers or socks can cause trips and falls.
Some simple home modifications can reduce the risks of fall-related injuries to make your home safer. Caregivers and family members should follow these safety tips to reduce fall hazards.
Fall Prevention In Rooms
- Arrange furniture in a way that allows for clear walkways
- Remove throw rugs and area rugs (or secure them to the floor with a non-slip pad or double-sided tape)
- Repair loose or uneven floorboards
- Don't store or stack objects on your floors
- Don't leave wires or electrical cords exposed (coil them and keep them running along the wall)
- Place a phone within reach of the floor in case you cannot get up from a fall
- Use corner and edge bumpers for sharp edges of furniture and appliances
- Anchor heavy appliances or furniture to the floor or wall
- Have a light close to your bed for quick and easy access when you wake up
- Ensure good lighting in each room (replace non-working light bulbs)
- Use nightlights for dark areas of your home
- Use lightweight curtains or shades to reduce glare
- Install smoke alarms in accessible locations in every room
- Install carbon monoxide alarms in accessible locations in all sleeping areas
Fall Prevention On Staircases and Steps
- Don't store or stack objects on your stairs or steps
- Fix loose, uneven steps or overly narrow steps
- Use non-slip rubber treads on your stairs
- Use a contrasting color on the top edge of each step to make them more visible
- Ensure adequate lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs with light switches in both locations
- Ensure that stairways inside and outside of your home have sturdy handrails on both sides
Fall Prevention In The Kitchen
- Don't place commonly used items on high shelves
- If a step stool is required to reach items, use one with a secure support bar
- Keep emergency numbers in large print on your refrigerator or near your phone
Fall Prevention In Bathrooms
- Ensure that your tub or shower has a non-slip surface
- Create a clear path from the doorway to the bath, shower, sink, and toilet
- Install grab bars next to the tub and toilet
The National Institute on Aging provides an additional checklist for preventing falls in the home.
See FindLaw's Caring for Aging Parents Overview to learn more about caring for older adults.
Use FindLaw's attorney directory if you are interested in speaking with an attorney specializing in older adult law issues.
Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?
- Complex guardianship or care situations usually require a lawyer
- A lawyer can reduce the chances of a family dispute
- Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.