Approximately half of falls experienced by older adults living in the community occur in their homes and immediate home surroundings, including the garden. Risk factors in the home can include poor lighting, clutter, uneven or slippery floors and the use of unstable furniture to assist with movements. Removing or reducing these risk factors can make the home environment safer for older adults and reduce their risk of falls.
How can I assist older adults to make their home safer?
The Best Practice Guidelines to Australian Community Care suggest that an environmental review and home hazard modification should be considered as part of a multifactorial approach in a falls prevention program for older people in the community. Studies have reported that home safety assessment and modification by an occupational therapist can reduce falls in older adults at high risk by 36%, particularly among those with poor vision or who have recently been admitted to hospital.
Modification to an older adult’s home environment via the removal of potentially hazardous furniture or the installation of assistive railing or additional lighting fixtures, can reduce the risk of falls in older adults. If needed, a home safety assessment and modification can also be conducted by an occupational therapist. The occupational therapist can assess the older adult’s abilities and identify patterns in how they use their home during daily activities. This process identifies hazards in the home such as slippery floors, and specific unsafe behaviours such as wearing loose shoes or leaving clutter in walkways. These can then be discussed with the older adult as well as behavioural modifications they can adopt to reduce their risk of falling.
If an older adult is at risk of falling and you think their home may be unsafe, refer them to an occupational therapist for a home assessment. There are many organisations that can assist with assistive equipment or home assessments, including; Occupational Therapy Australia, Independent Living Centre, Aged Care Assessment Teams and Silver Chain.
Personal alarms are small devices worn by older adults that, in the event of a fall, alert a trained operator at (the devices) monitoring service centre. Personal alarms are often a small pendant worn like a necklace or a fall/motion detector worn around the neck or at the hip. If the individual falls and requires assistance they can press a button on the pendant and a call is made directly to the devices emergency centre. Some alarms have technology that detects the occurrence of falls and if the person has remained on the ground.
The operator will speak directly with the individual to assess the situation, whilst also accessing their medical history, to determine the appropriate response. A nominated family member, friend, neighbour or ambulance service will then be contacted to assist. Aside from the ambulance service, nominated contact people require a key to enter the home. Monitoring service centres operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Stay On Your Feet Home Safety Checklist is a simple checklist of what can be modified to make a home and surrounding environment safer. Additionally, the Make Your Home Safer animation provides a reminder of the range of potential hazards in and around the home.