Fall Prevention: 9 Practices to Protect Against Falls and Trips

Medically Reviewed By Shilpa Amin, M.D., CAQ, FAAFP
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Falls are common and can lead to painful, severe injuries. As a result, the risk of falling can cause concern for many people. However, there are many ways to protect yourself and others from falling at home and elsewhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates around 36 million falls per year among adults ages 65 and older. Approximately 1 in 5 falls result in an injury. Falls can also affect people of all ages with other mobility or health conditions.

As a result, fall prevention interventions are important and can protect against significant health risks.

This article will discuss some effective fall prevention strategies and advice on practicing them. It will also explain what to do if you or someone else you are with experiences a fall.

Risk factors for falls

Two older adults climb some steps while holding hands.
Curtis Kim/Stocksy United

Many different factors can increase the risk of falling or tripping. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these can include:

  • being age 65 or older
  • having reduced senses and reflexes
  • having certain conditions that may affect balance, cause rushing, or cause mild cognitive impairment, such as:
  • taking certain medications
  • physical hazards in the environment

While falls are common, they are also preventable. As such, the CDC does not consider them a standard aspect of aging.

Strategies to reduce the risk of falls include home modifications and self-care techniques.

1. Remove hazards

Our surrounding environments can be full of hazards that may cause or worsen the severity of falls.

However, there are many steps you can take to remove or minimize hazards in the home, which include:

  • using chairs or couches of a height that is easy for you to use
  • storing items you use within easy reach, such as at waist level
  • organizing your home to avoid climbing, stretching, or bending for things
  • checking any pets are out of your way before walking
  • avoiding standing or climbing on something to reach an item that is high up
  • avoiding walking on slippery or recently wet floors, and cleaning up spills immediately

It is also important to clear pathways or any areas you move around. You can do this by:

  • limiting clutter or furniture in areas or pathways where you walk, particularly items or furniture that are low 
  • checking that carpets or rugs are firmly against the floor and do not slip
  • avoiding the use of rugs
  • keeping any cords or plugs fixed against walls and away from pathways

You may also be able to implement some of these precautions in other places you frequent, such as work or school.

2. Exercise and build strength

Being physically active can help protect you against falls by maintaining or increasing muscle strength and function. It can also keep other structures, such as your joints and ligaments, working well.

Activities that bear weight, such as climbing stairs, can protect against weakening bones.

Exercises that may help prevent falls include:

  • mild weight-bearing exercise, such as walking
  • balance and strength exercises, such as:
    • pilates
    • tai chi
    • yoga
    • weightlifting
    • body weight exercises
    • exercises with resistance bands

Learn about the 9 best exercises to strengthen your legs.

3. Contact your doctors and get tested regularly

Changes to our senses can affect our balance or ability to move around securely.

Getting your sight and hearing tested regularly can inform you whether you need to take care to protect against falls. Tests may also help you receive treatment or management techniques to improve your sight and hearing.

The CDC recommends having an eye exam at least every year. In addition, having a podiatrist check your feet can help support your mobility.

Inform your doctor if you have fallen, feel unsteady, or believe you may fall. This will help you receive individual advice on how to protect yourself.

Additionally, contact your doctor if you feel any conditions or symptoms you have are not manageable, do not improve, or worsen.

Learn more about vision loss, including its symptoms.

4. Improve lighting

Adequate lighting can help you spot potential hazards and avoid tripping.

You can use lighting in the following ways to protect against falls:

  • Place night lights, lamps, or light switches next to or within easy reach of the bed.
  • Keep a flashlight by the bed and close to you at other times in case of a power outage.
  • Install automatic lights or keep a porch light on at night if you anticipate being out after dark.
  • Ensure adequate lighting with accessible switches at the bottom and top of stairs and on either side of long passages.
  • Install motion-activated lights that turn on when you walk past.

5. Use assistive devices

Many different types of assistive devices can help prevent falls or trips. They can also reduce a fall’s severity or complications if any happen.

Assistive devices for fall prevention can include:

  • supportive tools while up and about, such as:
    • canes
    • walkers
    • transportable seaters
  • grab bars or rails in areas such as:
    • doorways
    • both sides of any steps or stairs
    • bathrooms
    • next to beds or chairs
  • nonslip mats on potentially slippery surfaces, such as the floor or shower tray

Many communication devices can help you receive immediate care if you experience a fall. Many of these devices work by calling 911 or informing your emergency contacts, such as friends or family. These devices can include:

  • wearable alert bracelets or necklaces
  • well-charged cordless cell phones
  • smartwatches or home speakers

Experts recommend keeping an alert device, such as a charged phone, close to your bed or nearby at all times.

6. Support self-care

Certain self-care techniques can help reduce the risk of falling. These can include:

  • getting good quality sleep and staying well-rested
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • following your treatment plan for any conditions as your doctor recommends
  • asking for help to do things that you cannot comfortably do on your own

7. Learn about your conditions and medication

Some medications and supplements can have side effects that may increase your risk of falling. This can include causing you to feel dizzy, weak, or sleepy.

Inform your doctor about any over-the-counter and prescription medications or supplements you take. Your doctor can advise if any may affect your risk of falling.

8. Protect yourself in bad weather

Certain types of weather, such as rain, ice, or extreme heat, can increase the risk of falls.

Fall prevention strategies in certain weather can include:

  • treating outdoor pathways with sand or ice-melting products during the winter
  • considering staying inside during bad weather, such as during ice or rain
  • staying hydrated in hot weather
  • reducing time in the sun in hot weather
  • using community services or home delivery to avoid going out in bad weather

9. Protect yourself while up and about

You can take some steps to reduce the risk or severity of falls while moving around, including:

  • keeping your hands free while moving around
  • wearing comfortable, nonslip, and low-heeled shoes
  • avoiding walking around in slippery footwear, such as socks, smooth-soled shoes, or slippers
  • getting up slowly and using stable support, such as properly fixed handrails if necessary

Support resources

You can assess your risk of falls using the CDC’s Stay Independent brochure. The CDC also offers the MyMobility Plan to help you monitor your mobility.

Many local and national programs may also help support older adults to prevent falls. The Administration on Aging offers resources to help you access support. You can reach them by searching the Eldercare locator online or calling 1-800-677-116.

However, if you are unsure who to contact about any concerns, your primary doctor can offer advice.

If you have fallen, contact your doctor immediately, even if you do not experience any immediate symptoms. Seek emergency care or call 911 for serious symptoms after a fall, such as confusion or severe pain.

Summary

Falls are a significant health risk and a common but serious concern for many people. While falls can cause severe injury or complications, they are preventable. It is possible to reduce your risk of falling or having severe side effects.

Fall prevention techniques include clearing your home and other environments of hazards, using assistive devices to support mobility, and practicing self-care.

Have regular checkups with your doctor to help prevent falls. These checkups should include regular sight, hearing, and foot health exams.

Contact your doctor if you have experienced a fall, feel concerned about falling, or are seeking any advice.

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Medical Reviewer: Shilpa Amin, M.D., CAQ, FAAFP
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 29
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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