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Preventing falls among the elderly

Preventing falls among the elderly

Top Tips on making home a safer place

preventing falls

Most falls happen at home. But when it comes to preventing falls, there is a lot that can be done.

Hip fractures cost the NHS an eye-watering £2.3 billion every year. And even taking a tumble which doesn’t result in a serious injury can really knock someone’s confidence.

But 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 are really simple (moving rugs or getting rid of clutter), or you may have to go the whole nine yards and consider installing a wet room and a stairlift as mobility or balance declines.

You may be able to get financial help from the local authority but you will need a home assessment first.

Here are our Top Tips on making home safer and preventing falls.

1. Accessibility

Making a few small changes may help with making life easier at home and preventing falls.  Some of it is not very pretty to look at – but needs must – and definitely worth it for independence and safety at home.

  • General access

If climbing the steps to the front door is difficult then a ramp would 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

Strange that these don’t come as standard with every home as whatever age you are, a keysafe can be a lifesaver. Very useful if different people are going into the home.

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

Like phones, there’s lots of tech available in this area – but simple is good. Loud doorbells, or ones which light up when someone is at the door are 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. It will also enable them to see who is at the door.

There are also now apps attached to entry cameras to see on their phone who is at the front door. Not for everyone for sure, but the tech savvy might really appreciate this.

  • 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.

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. That will either sound in the home, or be connected to a call centre for immediate help. 

Alarms like these are called Telecare – and we’ve a section on all the different types that are available.

Dad was very resistant to a personal alarm and hid it in the kitchen drawer for ages. When he started to wear it, and pressed the button and actually spoke to a nice lady in the call centre, he realised that it was very liberating. He felt safer on his own at home; Mum was reassured when she went out leaving him at home. We were relieved that he was one press away from help if necessary. Now he wears it all the time.

Telehealth equipment is designed to help people who live at home manage their long-term health conditions. These devices allow you to monitor your health without having to keep visiting your GP. Age UK has some useful information on this.

3. 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/lifts, and often try them out.

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. 

4. Downstairs bedroom

If going upstairs to bed is becoming a chore or a challenge then maybe it’s time to have a bed downstairs, particularly 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.

We go into more details about simple things to consider in the bedroom and additional home safety suggestions here.

5. Lighting

Good lighting is a no-brainer both inside and outside the home. 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 know, the eco bulbs take a while to warm up and can be a bit dim – so get those with the highest amp available.

6. Adapting 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.

  • 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. 

preventing falls

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. 

An occupational therapist will be able to advise on all of these for you – including where to site specific items.

  • Step-in bath

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 you’ve got a bit fumbly of finger.

7. Adapting the Kitchen

Some of this may sound extravagent, and may be so. You may also find that too much change is counter-productive and just causes more confusion.

But as the kitchen is often the centre of the home, and 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.

  • Safety basics

Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors, particularly if the house is old and these were never fitted as standard. There is lots more information on making the kitchen safe, particularly if your parent has Dementia from The Alzheimer’s Society.

  • 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. Better than standing on a chair to look on the top shelf or the back of the cupboard. Below-the -counter drawers are great for crockery. Much easier to lift and carry from a drawer below than a cupboard above.

  • Floor Surfaces

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.

8. Gadgets and gizmos

While not about preventing falls in the home, but still on the subject of kitchens – there are lots of fantastic gadgets and gizmos on offer to help make cooking and eating safer.

Our favourite product is a kettle which sits in a cradle. When boiled it doesnt needed 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 good place to look for things which can help make life easier as people get older is Spring Chicken.

9. Getting a Home Assessment

A home assessment can be arranged particularly if the local authority might pay for any adaptations. Called a home assessment’ it is carried out by a team from social services and occupational therapy (OT). 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. 

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.

Have you got some good ideas for making it safer and easier to live at home, or want to see what others are suggesting? Join the conversation and share your knowledge in the Age Space Forum.

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