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ELDERLY CARE

The most common causes of falls in the elderly

We look at some of the main causes of falls in the elderly, including common fall hazards in the home.

March 23, 2022

Elderly lady fallen on floor

People of any age can have a fall, but older people tend to be more likely than other groups to experience this, and the consequences of falls in the elderly can often be more serious. The NHS says that around a third of people over the age of 65, and half of people over 80 years of age, experience at least one fall a year.

For those who are on their own when they experience a fall, it can be a bit of a shock, and can be even more frightening if the person can’t get up again by themselves or have suffered an injury. Falls are the biggest reason for elderly people to be taken to A&E, and accounts for more than 250,000 hospital admissions in the over 65s every year. Falls cost the NHS an estimated £2.3 billion every year, but even when a fall doesn’t result in a serious injury, it can still cause pain, distress, and result in a loss of confidence and loss of independence for the person who fell.

In this article, we look at the most common causes of falls in the elderly at home and how to minimise these risks and gain some peace of mind, whether it’s for yourself or on behalf of an elderly relative or friend.

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Common fall hazards in the home for the elderly

There are many potential hazards at home that could contribute to a trip or fall in an elderly person, so it’s important to be aware of the risks and make the home as safe as possible to minimise the chances of a fall incident. These hazards could include: 

Clutter

Clutter in the home, especially at low levels or on the floor, can be a real trip hazard. This could be a small piece of furniture, a box or bag, a pile of laundry, some electrical wires across the floor or anything that isn’t necessarily easy to see and avoid.

Ensuring that walkways through the home, such as hallways, corridors and stairs, are free from clutter is a great way to reduce the risk of this kind of hazard causing a fall.

 

Poor lighting

Whether there is a blown light bulb that needs replacing or there is just insufficient lighting for the space, a dim room can make possible obstructions, changes in level or other hazards even more dangerous for elderly people at home. 

Ensuring that all lights are working, and adding extra lamps or light sources in areas of the home that need it, are a good way to help ensure that poor lighting doesn’t cause a fall.

Lighting on stairs

Uneven surfaces

Some homes have changes of level between rooms that can be a fall hazard, but this is more common in gardens or with steps to and from doorways. Even someone who knows the space really well can sometimes struggle with uneven surfaces as they get older and their perception changes a little. 

Walking through the property, make note of the uneven surfaces, and where possible, install “grab handles” as well as other support aids and rails can make all the difference.

 

Slippery surfaces

The dangers of being outside in icy and slippery conditions are well-known, but there are also potential risks of slipping in the home too. Anywhere where water is involved, such as in the bath, showers or spills on the kitchen floor, slips are common, so it’s important to clean up spillages straight away and use aids such as rubber bath mats and hand/grab rails in baths and showers for extra grip where needed.

It's also important to consider that sometimes wearing certain types of slippers on some carpets can be a reason for slipping or sliding unexpectedly. It’s advised for elderly people to wear slippers or footwear around the house that have a good amount of grip on the soles and fit them really well, to minimise the risks of this kind of fall.

 

Other reasons that elderly people might fall

As well as common hazards in the home that might cause a fall, there are also some things that many people experience as they get older that could result in falling too. These can include: 

Dizziness or loss of balance

There are lots of different things that can cause dizziness or balance problems. Some elderly people find that simply standing up a little quickly or getting out of the bath can cause a dizzy spell that might lead to a fall. Certain medical conditions or combinations of medication might also cause dizziness or affect balance, so it’s important that any medicines are reviewed regularly and any dizziness experienced is reported to a medical professional as soon as possible.

Elderly woman reviewing medication

Ear infections or other ear and hearing problems can have a big impact on balance. The chance of experiencing some hearing loss increases as we get older, with 71% of people over the age of 70 being affected to some degree, so it’s an important consideration in minimising the risk of a fall for many elderly people. Getting a free hearing check will help to highlight any problems in this area and there may be aids available that can make a real difference to daily life.

 

Vision problems

It’s very common to experience some vision issues as we age, as the eye muscles start to weaken from the age of around 45 even in those with good eyesight. Studies show that around one in five people over the age of 75 are living with sight loss, but even those with no specific eye or sight condition will often find that they need reading glasses or contact lenses by the time they are around 65 years of age.

Vision issues can mean that obstructions or other hazards in the home aren’t noticed until it’s too late to avoid a fall. Getting regular sight checks (which are free when over 60 years of age) can discover any issues with vision earlier and there may be treatment or aids available which can help minimise the difficulties with sight.

 

Fall prevention in the home for the elderly

Diagram of risk of falls in home

There’s never a way to eliminate every risk of falling, but there is much that can be done to make homes safer for elderly people and to minimise the hazards. Some of the measures you can take might include:

  • Assessing the home and the elderly person for their level of fall risk.
  • Removing clutter from the home, especially in narrow areas and walkways.
  • Using non-slip mats on hard floors.
  • Introduce grab rails or hand rails in areas where falls could be more likely e.g. bathrooms, stairs, at doorways or next to steps.
  • Ensuring all rooms have adequate lighting – maybe even consider motion-detection lights that will come on automatically should the elderly person get up in the night.
  • Using a fall prevention service like Taking Care Prevent to help improve strength and balance.

Assessing the risk of a fall

Complete our 2-minute assessment to calculate your risk of a fall. You will also receive our free Falls Prevention Guide for advice on avoiding falls and how to keep your loved ones safe at home with a personal alarm.

Get your Falls Risk Score

Read more tips for preventing falls in the home for the elderly.

 

Fall alarms and personal alarms

For an elderly person who might be at risk of a fall, it can provide a high level of peace of mind (for them and their loved ones) if they have a fall alarm or personal alarm that they can use in the event that they do fall, slip or trip over at home.

A fall alarm is a wearable alarm (either on the wrist, like a watch, or worn around the neck as a pendant) that can actually detect when the wearer has a fall and will raise the alarm automatically. The wearer can also press the button themselves if they need help. This kind of personal alarm is ideally suited to elderly people who want some extra reassurance that if there is an incident, the 24-hour response team is on hand to assist and can call the emergency services, if needed, or can notify family members of what has happened. 

Our personal alarm services already help more than 70,000 people to stay safe in their own homes.

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure


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