Alarmingly, half of those aged over 80 have at least one fall every year, and most of these happen at home. Not surprisingly, some of these are entirely preventable.
An all too common problem resulting from a fall is a hip fracture, which almost always requires surgery. Hip fractures cost the NHS an eye-watering £2.3 billion every year. The price to someone ending up in hospital of course can be much worse, with a long difficult road to recovery. Even taking a tumble which doesn’t result in a serious injury can really knock someone’s confidence.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to help prevent falls in the home to make it safer and easier for your parents or relatives to live independently.
Some changes to prevent falls are really simple (moving rugs or getting rid of clutter) – others involve going the whole nine yards, such as installing a wet room and a stairlift as mobility or balance declines.
Here are our top tips to prevent falls in the elderly and make the home safer. You may be able to get financial support with some of these changes from your relative’s local authority but you will need a home assessment first.
A few small changes can make all the difference when it comes to making life easier at home and preventing falls. Some of these changes are not all that pretty to look at – but needs must – and definitely worth it for independence and safety at home.
Best accessibility tips
If climbing the steps to the front door is difficult then a ramp can give better access. Ramps should be non-slip, and any “joins” to the front door or on to a garden path/driveway as smooth as possible.
For someone living with dementia or walking with a frame or sticks, different surfaces can be confusing, so minimising these are really important.
External key safe
It is strange that these don’t come as standard with every home as whatever age you are, a keysafe can be a lifesaver. They are particularly useful if different people are going into the home, perhaps as regular visitors or care providers.
Some keysafes are fiddly with only a small space for a single key, and with a rotating cylinder as the locking mechanism which can be hard to line up, particularly in the dark. Make it a memorable or easy combination – but not too obvious.
A good idea is to ensure that the front door key doesn’t get left in the lock on the inside. Put a key hook somewhere close by – but not visible or accessible through the letterbox.
Door bells and access
There’s lots of tech available in the doorbell arena, including video doorbells. These allow the user to see exactly who is at the door. Video doorbells are great for home security, avoiding scammers, and peace of mind.
Sometimes, though simple is enough with doorbells. Loud doorbells, or ones which light up when someone is at the door are helpful and readily available.
You might also want to consider an entryphone – particularly if your parent struggles getting in and out of a chair to the front door. Most will enable them to see who is at the door.
Raised post box
Simple changes like installing a raised post box can make a big difference. No more bending down to pick up letters from the doormat every day is a bonus if you’re a bit creaky or unsteady.
Grab rails around the home
There are many kinds of “off the shelf” grab rails designed for specific purposes. These range from soft grip grab rails, to red grab rails for people with dementia for whom the colour is important.
Good places to fit grabrails include the loo, bath or shower, up the stairs and along corridors. These are all common places for falls in the home.
You might also find useful grabrails with suction pad attachments which can be moved around and are waterproof, for a shower for instance.
2. Personal Alarm Systems
Personal alarms are literally a lifeline for elderly people who may be unsteady on their feet. If someone falls, they can press the button on the pendant/wristband to activate an alarm – or in some cases, the wearable alarm will automatically detect the fall. This will then send out an immediate call for help, either from family or a monitoring centre.
Personal alarms are very affordable, and provide real peace of mind that help will be available quickly if the wearer does have a fall.
We’ve put together a list of the best personal alarms on the market, which includes exclusive discounts for Age Space users.
3. Smart Home Monitoring Services
Home monitoring systems are fantastic at both responding to falls at home amongst the elderly and preventing them from happening in the first place
Using AI and machine learning technology, smart home monitoring systems use sensors to monitor a person at home in order to predict and prevent health problems (including falls) before they become emergencies.
For example, they can detect common signs prior to a fall, such as a change in gait and moving around the house less often or more slowly.
Read our guide to the best smart home monitoring services available in the UK.
4. A stairlift or a lift?
If climbing the stairs becomes an increasing concern, then a stairlift or a small internal lift might be the answer. There are many different types and at different price points too, so shop around. You can buy reconditioned stairlifts and lifts, and it’s advisable to ask to try them out before your commit to buying.
Stairlifts can be fitted in a relatively short period of time (days not weeks) and there are types for all staircases and configurations, both indoors and outside.
The clothes designer Zandra Rhodes apparently has a customised zebra-print painted stairlift – so you could always follow her lead! Household lifts are also worth investigating as many don’t require enormous amounts of room to install.
5. Downstairs Bedroom
Trekking up and down the stairs can be one of the bigger fall risks within the home. One solution to this may be moving to a property with fewer stairs (or none at all!), which you can read more about in our downsizing guide.
When going upstairs to bed is becoming a chore or a challenge, but moving property doesn’t feel like a good option, it may be time to have a bed downstairs. This could be a particularly good option if a stairlift or lift are not possible.
In some circumstances the NHS or care services provide hospital beds. You might also be able to install a mobile wetroom in a downstairs loo – these are now available to rent – and might be a good short term solution if moving downstairs is required.
Good lighting is a no-brainer both inside and outside the home for preventing falls in elderly parents. On your list should be well-lit pathways, lights outside the garage as well as inside ‘task lighting’ for reading, doing puzzles, sewing etc.
As you may know, eco bulbs can take a while to warm up and can be a bit dim – so get those with the highest amp available.
You can also get lights specifically for those that get up in the night, such as the Techsilver LED Bright Motion Light Sensor. This clever light can identify movement and darkness, and activates only when both are detected. It is bright enough to let a person see where they are going, and turns off quickly once somebody is back in bed.
7. Preventing a Fall in the Bathroom
One of the rooms that becomes less and less accessible with declining mobility, as well as being one of the most obvious places to fall, is the bathroom.
Best bathroom adaptations for avoiding falls
Wet room / bathroom / loo
Fortunately, wet rooms are much more the norm these days so it might be easy to convert an existing bathroom or to install one in a downstairs cloakroom or loo.
Rather fabulously you can even rent a temporary/mobile wet room – a bit like an indoor tent inside an existing cloakroom or loo. This could be a short-term solution whilst building works are done to adapt the home.
Whatever you do, a single, flat, slip-free surface throughout is best; consider enough space for a wheelchair, along with additional grab rails by the shower/bath/loo; also enough room to store and use a shower stool if someone is unable to stand up to wash very easily.
Shower curtains can really get in the way- so maybe a glass door; you might also need to put a raised seat over the loo and have enough room around it for grabrails, or space for a wheelchair or zimmer/mobility assistance
If your parent hates taking a shower, but can no longer get in and out of the bath safely, then you’ll wish you had one of those funny step-in baths that are advertised in the weekend papers.
Loo roll holders
It may sound silly but install those ones you just slide the loo roll on and off. Something so simple and easy is great if dexterity is on the decline.
8. Preventing falls in the Kitchen
The kitchen is often the centre of the home – everyone needs to eat, after all! Some of these changes may sound slightly extravagant, but if your parents have always loved sitting in the kitchen, then it could well be a price worth paying to enable them to continue safely.
Tips for making the kitchen safer
Glass-fronted kitchen cupboards
These can really help for obvious reasons- much less rootling around in the back of dark cupboards!
Hobs, ovens and microwaves
Ceramic hobs stay hot dangerously long after you have turned them off; naked flames on gas hobs are scary, or worse, gas hobs that don’t actually light.
Just as important is a hob with easy to use knobs. Do your research and make sure you go and try out the knobs before you buy, they need to be easy to twist with clear markings. Also check the oven knobs too.
If you install an induction hob be sure to test out the saucepans first as they can be really heavy to lift.
A microwave oven is increasingly essential particularly for ready meals or for heating small amounts of food. Choose one with big buttons and easy to read dials/instructions.
Kitchen drawers – lots of them!
Drawers are much easier to use as they are much easier to access. No more needing to stand on a chair to look on the top shelf or the back of the cupboard.
Below-the-counter drawers are great for crockery. It's much easier to lift and carry from a drawer below than a cupboard above.
A single hard floor surface throughout the home (eg wood, with no threshold to trip over) could be particularly helpful for mobility or for someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Changes in floor surfaces can be confusing and cause stumbling. And if there are accidents in the bedroom or kitchen, a hard surface is much easier to clean than a carpet.
9. Gadgets and Gizmos
Though not directly about preventing falls at home – there are lots of fantastic gadgets and gizmos on offer to help make cooking and eating safer.
One of our favourite kitchen products for the elderly is a kettle which sits in a cradle. When boiled it doesn’t need to be lifted up to be poured. A brilliant idea for everyone who likes a cuppa! You can find out more about Kettle Tippers and other useful products on the Complete Care Shop website.
Another great source of useful – and tasteful – gadgets and gizmos is Granny Gets A Grip. This great shop has sourced the best gadgets and living aids for older people, while keeping style in mind.
10. Getting a Home Assessment
A home assessment can be arranged as part of a needs assessment, particularly if the local authority might pay for any adaptations. Home assessments are carried out by a team from social services and occupational therapy (OT). These will be specialists in home safety and preventing falls in the home.
Some or all changes could be funded by the local authority, such as a toilet frame, bed hoist, and alterations such as grab rails and ramps.
Along with adaptations, you might also want to think about more care at home. An increasingly popular option for care at home is live-in care. A live-in carer would mean that, if your relative was to have a fall, somebody would be on hand to provide immediate support.
As always, if you’re getting tradespeople in to adapt the home, you can check them out on trusted trader websites. The council may also have a directory of preferred suppliers.
When thinking abut making changes to your relative's home to prevent falls, keep in mind that making too many changes at once could confuse them – especially if they have dementia.
Making changes over a period of time may be the best and safest option for some people.