Older Adults in Your Home: Preventing Falls

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.

Nobody can escape the ravages of time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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 experience a fall each year. Falls are also the leading cause of injury-related death in adults 65 or older.

This article explores the steps you can take to prevent falls in the home and the legal liability you may face if an older adult slips and falls in your home.

Homeowners and Older Adults In The Home

Tripping hazards can be problematic for both homeowners and older adults residing in or visiting a home. Homeowners have a responsibility to ensure a safe environment for everyone in their home by following basic home safety practices and addressing potential dangers. Failure to do so may result in costly personal injury or premises liability lawsuits.

For older adults in your home, the "eggshell plaintiff doctrine" applies. This legal principle holds that a defendant is accountable for the harm they cause to another person, even if that individual is considered physically fragile.

The underlying public policy supporting this legal doctrine aims to promote safety and prevent injuries within 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 help you avoid expensive medical bills and legal liability.

You may have a legal obligation 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 legal duty to prevent injuries in your home, see FindLaw's Property Owners' Legal Duty to Prevent Injury article.

Legal Considerations: Personal Injury Cases

If a family member or loved one falls in your home, they may have no choice but to file a lawsuit against you to recover damages. Such damages may include:

  • Medical bills
  • Pain and suffering
  • Home care costs
  • Physical therapy
  • Health care provider appointments
  • Installation of fall prevention aids such as non-slip mats and handrails to prevent an additional fall

A lawsuit might be essential for expensive cases like a traumatic brain injury that leaves the person incapacitated. Depending on the injury from the fall, the person may need to move into a nursing home or require long-term care.

Fall-Related Injury Facts

Senior citizens 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:

  • Lacerations
  • Broken bones (spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand)
  • Head traumas (traumatic brain injuries, concussions, etc.)
  • Death

Even if an older person doesn't suffer a serious injury in a fall, the resulting fear of falling often causes them to reduce their activities and mobility. This reduction in physical activities increases their risks of falling again as their muscles grow weaker with non-use.

Tips for Protecting Against Falls at Home

Regular exercises that increase leg strength and balance, such as tai chi, can help prevent older adults from 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.

General Fall Prevention Tips

A fall can happen in any room of your home. Below are a few general tips for preventing falls:

  • Arrange furniture in a way that allows for clear walkways
  • Either 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 but instead 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 by replacing 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
  • Place a cane near the entrance of each room

Fall Prevention On Staircases and Steps

Stairs are dangerous for those unsteady on their feet. A few ways you can prevent falls on staircases and steps include:

  • 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

A fall might not be the first injury that comes to mind when you think of the kitchen, but many accidents occur in this part of the house. Helpful ways to avoid mishaps include:

  • Don't place often-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

Falls in the bathroom are common. Reducing the chance one occurs is easy if you:

  • 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. Another great resource is the National Council on Aging which aims to increase awareness around fall prevention amongst older Americans.

Additional Resources

See FindLaw's Caring for Aging Parents Overview to learn more about long-term care planning for older adults.

For legal advice on issues ranging from estate planning to elder abuse, use FindLaw's attorney directory to speak with an elder law attorney.

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