Quality | Published September 23, 2013 | Written by Jeanne Mathis-Halpin, RN

Helping seniors stay independent by avoiding falls

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with patients’ loved ones about helping seniors maintain their independence at home.

One particular area of concern I’ve addressed is how to prevent falls at home – and it’s with good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths and hospital trauma admissions for people 65 and over.

Fortunately, most falls can be prevented with proper education and the right environment. At Mount Nittany Medical Center, I am part of a multidisciplinary team dedicated to preventing patient falls. Together we have implemented a comprehensive fall prevention program that involves patient assessment, monitoring and, of course, education.

Just as we educate our patients about the different environmental factors that could lead to falls in patient rooms (i.e., furniture being on wheels, beds being at different heights than at home, phones being on walls instead of stands, etc.), it is important to evaluate the home environment as well.

Here are a few things to look for, specifically:

  • Hallways – should be free of clutter and obstructions
  • Medicines – should be accessible without needing the help of a bench/stool; seniors should also be aware of any medications that could affect balance, potentially causing a fall
  • Floors- should be free of “loose” carpets like throw rugs as well as electrical cords
  • Bathroom – should have grip bars installed near toilet and tub/shower; should also place non-slip strips in tub/shower
  • Bedside – should keep a lamp and phone at the bedside
  • Lighting – should have abundant, bright light in the home, including nightlights
  • Phones – should have an adequate number of wall-mounted phones throughout the home
  • Stairways – should have handrails securely fastened to walls
  • Pets – always use extra precaution when pets are in the home; falls can occur from tripping over cats or dogs

These are just a few suggestions for preventing falls at home. It is always best to consult a physician for additional information and measures (i.e., walkers, canes, glasses, changes in medication, etc.) that could help prevent falls for seniors and help them remain independent in their homes.