How to prevent falls
Falls present a serious risk to the health and wellbeing of older people so it’s important to do what you can to prevent them. If you, or your loved one, has had a fall in the past, there are plenty of steps you can take to stop one happening again in the future.
Avoiding falls in the home
Many falls in older people happen for reasons that may be ‘avoidable’; for example, loose carpets or rugs that present a trip hazard, or insufficient lighting on a stairway. By carrying out a few simple checks, you may be able to help the person you’re looking after make their home safer.
- Make sure any rugs and mats are attached to the floor and are non-slip.
- Check your carpets for tripping hazards such as fraying or ruffles.
- Fasten any unavoidably trailing wires to the floor, using duct tape for example.
- Be aware of the obstacles that unnecessary clutter can cause. And make sure any spillages, particularly liquids, are cleaned up as soon as possible.
Watch out for common hazards on stairs and stairways. Read our article on staying safe on the stairs.
Check that light switches are working properly and located in convenient positions. Consider replacing or relocating any awkwardly positioned light switches or power sockets.
Use high-wattage light bulbs and make sure there are replacements available. Keep working torches on hand in case of power outages.
For someone with reduced mobility or strength, the bathroom can pose specific risks. For example, getting into or out of the bath or shower can be particularly challenging. Fortunately, there are many products and adaptations you can make to help make the bathroom safer and easier to use.
Read our article on Bathroom safety for ideas on how to avoid a fall when washing.
Grab rails can be installed at key positions in the home where you may benefit from a little extra support – like the bathroom, stairs or front door. In the right place a rail can be an effective and inexpensive solution.
Use a walking aid
If you start to feel unsteady on your feet, there are a range of walking aids that can give you the extra support to avoid having a fall.
One of the simplest aids is a walking stick. If you still have reasonably good mobility a stick may give you a little extra confidence and balance.
Improve your fitness
It’s a good idea to be as active as you can be. Getting regular exercise can help you maintain strength, flexibility and energy levels and help you stay independent.
Choosing activities to strengthen your muscles are particularly worthwhile as you get older. Moving about more will strengthen your legs and mean you’re less likely to have a fall.
Look after your health
Simple health checks can also help you reduce your chances of experiencing a fall.
Sight and hearing checks
Get your eyes checked and your prescription reviewed as often as your optician advises – at least every two years. Poor eyesight is a major cause of falls. Glasses with bifocal or varifocal lenses can make things appear closer than they really are, which could lead you to lose your balance.
A problem with your ears can affect your balance, so make sure you talk to GP if you notice any changes to your hearing.
Look at your medicines
Certain medications can make you feel dizzy. Let your GP or pharmacist know straight away if you’re experiencing this on a new medication. They may be able to suggest alternative tablets.
Take good care of your feet
Trim your toenails regularly and wear well-fitting shoes. If you wear slippers, make sure they're supportive. It's best not to wear ones that you slip your feet into; instead look for slippers that have zip or Velcro fastenings and non-slip soles.
If you’re venturing outside, particularly in wintery weather, choose sturdy, water-proof shoes. For more information, read common causes of falls.
After a fall
If you’ve had a stay in hospital after a recent fall, a follow-up home visit by a specialist may be arranged. If your hospital hasn’t sorted this yet, you can make your own arrangements. Read our guide to being discharged from hospital.
Follow-up home visits
Contact your local NHS trust and ask to speak to their falls prevention team about organising an assessment. The resources within each trust are different and falls prevention teams may often be required to work on a priority basis, with ‘frequent fallers’ given highest priority. It’s not guaranteed that the NHS will be able to send someone to perform an assessment but you have every right to speak to them and ask what help they can provide.
Visit a physiotherapist or occupational therapist
If you can’t get an NHS assessment, the next best step is to visit a healthcare professional, such as an occupational therapist or physiotherapist, who has experience in falls prevention. Do be aware that if you’re hiring a healthcare professional privately, they will need to be paid for their services.
The falls prevention specialist will carry out an assessment of you and your home to understand the potential risks and underlying causes of a repeat fall. They can then advise on the best next steps.
Technology that can help
A personal alarm can allow you to easily call for assistance if you have any accident in the home. There are many different personal alarms available – some are specifically designed for alerting a loved one if you fall.
We look at some of the more common causes of falls and ways these risks can be reduced.
Find advice on stairlifts, wheelchair lifts, hand rails and walking sticks, and avoiding common hazards on stairways.
If your loved one has a fall or is taken to A&E, read our advice on what will happen and how to get the best care.