Falling Over At Home: Helping Our Parents Stay Safe
As we get older, our chances of falling over increase, and the majority of falls and trips actually happen at home.
So, during this period of self isolation when our senior parents are at home and we are not able to help them directly, what can be done to try and prevent them falling over?
This guide looks at falls prevention, risk factors of a fall, ways they can avoid falling over, and what to do if a fall does occur. This knowledge can help our favourite seniors to stay safe at home.
What Is A Fall?
According to the definition from the World Health Organisation, a fall is ‘an event which results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or other floor or other lower level’.
This is useful to keep in mind if you have ever heard your older parent dismiss a fall that they have had.
Maybe they didn’t think it was a fall as they didn’t hurt themselves, or it was just a minor trip (in their eyes). Essentially, anything that results in someone being on the floor without meaning is categorised as a fall.
What Causes A Fall?
Falls can happen for a multitude of reasons – there is no one factor which causes someone to fall.
What we do know though is that one in three people over 65 will fall at least once a year, and this rises to half of all elderly adults aged 85 years and over.
When a senior person falls, there is a 50% chance that it will seriously impact mobility, and a 1 in 10 risk of dying within one year.
Looking at those stats, it makes sense to want to keep our older parents safe at home – especially when we are not able to physically help them at this time.
In this article, we will look at how we can do just this.
If your parent has limited mobility, please read our blog post on the best indoor activities for people who find it harder to move around.
Reducing The Risk Of Falling At Home
When we’re not self isolating, we can get outside support to help avoid falls at home. For example, the occupational therapist could visit to identify falls risks in the home and make recommendations for equipment, and you could see an ophthalmologist for an eye test.
During self isolation, external support like this is not possible but there are still steps we can help the over 70s take to reduce their risk of falls, and give peace of mind to you.
Identifying Falls Hazards
We get so used to our home that we don’t always see the falls hazards there.
Below, we’ve listed the hazards which can easily be removed or avoided during self isolation, and made suggestions on how they can be overcome.
It could be an idea to video call your parents and do a virtual tour of their house with them, so you can collectively discuss any falls hazards. Being proactive and removing these risk factors now can reduce their risk of falling when you’re not able to see them.
This helps prevent falls anxiety from them, promotes independent living and makes life easier, and also provides you with peace of mind.
Talking of falls anxiety, you may be interested to read about how to regain confidence after a fall.
Falls Safety Checklist
Rugs Are A Trip Hazard
If a rug or carpet isn’t secured to the floor, it is a slip and trip hazard – either if the corner comes up, or if it moves when they are on it. The best solution would be to take the rug up, but if it’s a key decorative feature and they want to keep it, then make sure it’s secure. Use a grip floor mat like this which comes in a variety of sizes.
Clutter On Staircase
Keep clutter to a minimum throughout the house (especially at floor level) – but this is especially important on the stairs. Remove anything that could be fall hazard on the stairs – whether that’s washing baskets, books or mobility equipment. Keep your staircase free of clutter and debris and this removes a large trip hazard.
Don’t Wear Backless Slippers
Slippers can provide comfort when at home but backless slippers impact balance and make us more susceptible to falling over. Look for alternatives for your parents online, and get them delivered.
Keep Rooms Clear
Whilst we’re not able to go outside, or cleaners cannot come in, it is understandable if rooms get messier and your parents are not able to tackle this all on their own.
Help by encouraging them to see mess that could cause falls (for example, full bin bags by the door), and work out a solution to help them clear this safely.
The above are simple solutions which your parents could implement themselves. Read our other Falls Prevention article for other adaptations that could be made.
Focusing On Strength And Balance
Strength and balance is so important when it comes to falls prevention! Why? Well, as we get older we lose muscle mass which means we have less body strength – and so are more likely to fall over.
We start losing muscle mass from our 30s, which means that by the time someone is over 70 (and having to stay at home and self isolate), they may have lost almost half of their muscle strength.
Muscle strength can however be built back up at any age – evidence suggests that it’s never too late. There are simple exercises and movements that can be done during self isolation to help keep muscles, bones and joints strong, aid balance and minimise sedentary behaviour.
Strength And Balance Exercises
Doing strength and balance exercises at least twice a week will help seniors stay mobile and independent, and less at risk of falling.
These are also known as weight-bearing exercises, as you support your body weight and force your muscles to work against gravity.
We like these six falls prevention exercises which can be done easily at home. All that is needed is a sturdy chair for support, sensible shoes and some enthusiasm!
Keep these up and you’ll help your muscles stay strong. We explain them below, and you can also watch them on this video.
Stand tall and hold your chair. Lift your heels off the floor, taking weight off the front of your feet. Hold for three seconds, slowly lower to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
Stand tall and hold your chair. Raise your toes, taking weight in the heels. Keep upright. Hold for three seconds, slowly lower. Repeat 10 times.
Heel Toe Stand
Stand tall sideways on your support, using one hand on it for balance. Place one foot directly in front of other. Take your hand off the support, balance for 10 seconds. Place your hand back on the support, change the order of your feet and repeat.
One Leg Stand
Stand close to your support, holding it with one hand. Balance on one leg, with your support knee soft. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Sit To Stand
Sit tall towards front of the chair, with your feet tucked slightly back. Lean forwards slightly and stand up, using your arms lightly for support on the chair if needed. Slowly lower back into chair. Repeat 10 times.
Heel Toe Walking
It’s a good idea to use a sideboard (hip height) or few chairs for this for added support as you’re going to be walking forwards while working on your balance.
Stand tall, one foot in front of the other with the closest hand on the support. Place one foot directly in front of the other, so your heel is at your toes. Then move the back foot in front of the other. Repeat this walking motion for 10 steps. Turn around and repeat.
Other weight-bearing exercises which can easily be done at home include:
Filling up two shopping bags and holding them for one minute before placing back on the floor.
Chair yoga (ideal if you can’t get up or down from the floor easily): see example exercises here.
Eating Well To Prevent Falls
As panic buying continues, it is proving more difficult to get all the ingredients we want from the shops. But a good diet full of protein, calcium and vitamin D will help to build strength and aid falls prevention.
You can find protein in meat, fish, baked beans, eggs, broccoli, almonds and cottage cheese.
It could also be an idea to look for protein-enriched foods for an easy snack or meal to build muscle mass.
Natural yoghurt is already high in protein, but you can find some brands (such as Arla) which have it added too. You can buy fortified peanut butter, bread, breakfast drink shakes and even Snickers bars with added protein (the peanuts in them are naturally high in protein).
As well as dairy products, you can find calcium in oily fish, pulses and green leafy vegetables.
Make sure though that you’re taking in vitamin D too as this helps our bodies to absorb the calcium.
While the weather’s good, encourage your parents to soak up the sun (safely!) in the garden – 10 minutes of direct sunlight is enough to produce all the vitamin D needed for the day. If they can’t go outside, a vitamin D supplement is a good alternative.
Personal Alarms And Falls
A pendant alarm is a cost-effective and easy-to-use way to know that your parents are safe 24/7.
They wear it around their neck or wrist, and if a fall happens can press the button and alert the recipient. Whist you may not be able to go to them currently, it means you can be warned of the fall and make plans to help them from afar and their safety.
There are other more advanced tech options, but whilst you’re not able to go into their home it makes sense to start with the more basic (but still very reliable) option of the pendant alarm to help with falls.
Getting Up From A Fall
If you’re worried about your parent falling over during this time, it could be an idea to video call and practice getting up from the floor. Being prepared can help! Here are the steps to follow to get up from a fall:
- If you fall, don’t panic. Check for injuries, call for help or use your pendant alarm if you have one. If you’re unable to get up, then try and make yourself comfortable on the floor – is there a cushion or blanket within crawling reach for example. If you can get up, then do it slowly and in a stepped approach.
- Roll onto all fours
- Crawl to a stable chair and use this for support when pulling yourself up
- To do this, bring one of your legs (ideally the stronger if you have one) to a 90-degree angle. Push through your leg and follow through with your arms until you are up and able to turn to sit on the chair
Falls are not an inevitable part of getting older, and there are things we can do to try and prevent them. Whilst older adults are in self isolation they can focus on strength and balance exercises, eating well and clearing falls hazards. Good luck.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whilst you may not be able to see your parents currently, you can help them prevent falls in a few ways. From identifying potential falls hazards in the home, focusing on strength and balance exericses to build muscle mass and eating a diet rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D.
Follow these steps if you fall.
1. Don’t panic. Check for injuries, call for help or use your pendant alarm if you have one. If you’re unable to get up, then try and make yourself comfortable on the floor – is there a cushion or blanket within crawling reach for example. If you can get up, then do it slowly and in a stepped approach.
2. Roll onto all fours
3. Crawl to a stable chair and use this for support when pulling yourself up.
4. To do this, bring one of your legs (ideally the stronger if you have one) to a 90-degree angle. Push through your leg and follow through with your arms until you are up and able to turn to sit on the chair.
Doing strength and balance exercises at least twice a week will help seniors stay mobile and independent, and less at risk of falling. Exercises like heel and toe raises and sit to stand will help.