Preventing Falls for Older Adults
Kevin J. O’Neill, DNP, RN, NEA-BC
Chair & Associate Professor
New Jersey City University
Falls represent a major health concern for many older adults. Falls can have a significant impact on overall health of the older population, including possible complications such as developing pneumonia or bedsores and reducing the ability to remain independent, for example.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)estimates that approximately one in four people over age 65 experience a fall each year. Falls and their complications cost American taxpayers $31 billion every year. There are concerns that the number of falls and the cost of falls will continue to rise as the Baby Boom generation ages. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population over 65 will rise to 74 million by the year 2030 over the current 46 million. Currently, approximately 29 million falls occur each year. With the projected increase in our aged population this is predicted to rise to about 49 million falls per year.
What can be done to prevent falls from happening at home? Specific suggestions to prevent falls include:
- Ask your healthcare provider to assess your risk for falls
- Have your healthcare provider or pharmacist review your prescription and over-the-counter medicinesfor medications that may increase your risk for falls
- Schedule annual eye exams and update your eyeglasses prescription if indicated
- Wearwell-fitting low-heeled sensible shoes. Sneakers or walking shoes are a great choice as they also have nonslip soles and heels
- Remove clutter around your home andeliminate things you could trip over
- Remove throw rugs or use double-sided tape or a non-slip backing to secure the rugs. A treasured carpet may make for an artistic wall covering.
- Limit the use of electrical extension cords
- Keep lamp and appliance wires close to walls so you don’t trip on them
- Install grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet
- Place a non-slip mat or self-stick strips in your tub or shower
- Installhandrails on both sides of stairs
- Install bright non-fluorescent lightbulbs throughout your home
- Have a lamp in easy reach from your bedside
- Consider having nightlights on the path between your bedroom and bathroom
- Use chairs with arms so you can steady yourself when you stand up
- Have loose or broken stairway steps repaired
- Remove carpeting from steps and replace with non-slip treads
- Keep regularly used items in the kitchen on lower shelves
- If you use a step stool, use one with a handrail to steady yourself
- Participate in regular exercise that focuses on increasing strength of your legs and balance, such as tai chi
- Outside your home, wear proper footwear, take it slow, and carry a cell phone with emergency contacts pre-programmed
As the old proverb says an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true in the prevention of falls. More information about falls prevention can be found at the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/index.html or the National Council on Aging’s Falls Prevention webpage at https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/falls-prevention/
About the Author
Kevin J. O’Neill, DNP, RN, NEA-BC is a board-certified nurse and Associate Professor and Chair of the Nursing Department at New Jersey City University. He has more than 30 years of experience in the care of older adults.