We often think of our homes as a safe refuge from the world. However, as we get older, the condition of our homes can, unfortunately, be the cause of serious injuries. Falls in the home are the leading cause of all non-fatal and fatal injuries among the elderly.
It’s estimated that one out of three seniors experiences a fall each year and the death rates for seniors who experience fall-related injuries have seen a steep increase over the past decade. In 2011 alone, almost 23,000 seniors died from fall-related injuries. One of the higher-profile incidents involved Ann B. Davis, an actress famous for her role as "Alice" in the Brady Bunch, who died at the age of eighty-eight after falling in her bathroom.
Seniors are more susceptible to falling due to factors such as diminished bone mass and muscle strength, loss of balance, reduced flexibility, and weakened vision. Along with being more susceptible to falling, seniors are also more likely to suffer serious injuries from falls based on these factors and any other physical conditions they may have. Fall-related injuries for seniors include:
- Fractures (spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand)
- Head traumas (traumatic brain injuries)
In many cases, even where seniors aren’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
While regular exercises, particularly those that increase leg strength and balance, can help to prevent seniors from experiencing harmful falls, there are also some simple home modifications that can reduce the risks of fall-related injuries, as indicated below.
- Arrange furniture in a way that allows for clear walkways.
- Remove throw rugs or secure them to the floor (with a non-slip pad or double-sided tape).
- Don’t store or stack objects on your floors.
- Don't leave wires or cords exposed (coil them and keep them running along the wall).
- Place a phone within reach of the floor in case you are unable to 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 adequate lighting in each of your rooms (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.
Stairs 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.
- 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.
- Ensure that your tub or shower has a non-slip surface.
- Install grab bars next to the tub and toilet.
Even if you're not a senior, 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. You may also be legally obligated to do so depending on the laws of your state. In many jurisdictions, you have a duty to warn visitors of any known dangerous conditions and you may even have a duty to inspect your home and warn of any dangerous conditions that 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.
Additionally, if you’re concerned about fall-related injuries for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to have powers of attorney for financial management and health care in place, along with an estate plan. Given the severity of injuries that could result from a fall, which can include traumatic brain injury or even death, it’s important to ensure that you have named someone that you can trust who will act on your behalf if you become incapacitated or who will manage your estate after you pass away.
An estate planning attorney can assist in preparing estate plans tailored to your specific needs and can also assist you in planning for long-term care. For additional information on powers of attorney and estate planning, see FindLaw's "Estate Planning” article.
To learn more about caring for older adults, see FindLaw's "Caring for Aging Parents Overview." If you are interested in speaking with an attorney specializing in estate planning or elder law, see FindLaw's attorney directory.