Over half of all falls happen at home, where we spend much of our time and tend to move around without thinking about our safety. Falls prevention in and around the home is often described as ‘common sense’, however, it isn’t always easy to recognise the things that can cause trips, slips and falls.
Although hazards within the home often contribute to a fall, more often than not falls are caused by personal risk factors
What can I do?
Many falls could be prevented by making a few small changes in your home, including:
- removing or avoiding trip and slip hazards
- improving lighting
- storing frequently used items within easier reach
- changing or adapting furniture and furnishings to give more support
These changes may also make it easier getting around your home and carrying out daily activities.
It can be helpful to have someone else, such as a friend, relative or neighbour to have a look with you to see if there is anything which could be made safer.
Trip and slip hazards
An important first step toward preventing falls at home is to remove anything that could cause you to trip or slip while walking around.
To do this:
- clear clutter from your floors or stairs – including small furniture, pet bowls, trailing cables, or other things can cause you to trip. Try to avoid leaving or storing items on stairs and hallways
- arrange furniture to give you plenty of room to walk freely
- remove loose mats and rugs to reduce the risk of tripping accidentally
Loose floor coverings and changes in the type of flooring from one room to the next can be a trip hazard and make walking or balance more difficult. People with a visual impairment, Parkinson’s disease or dementia are more at risk of falls because of uneven flooring.
To improve the safety of your flooring, consider:
- securing carpets, and removing mats and rugs, as uneven surfaces can cause a trip hazard, particularly on stairs
- replacing your carpet with a self coloured one as this is best, particularly if you have problems with your vision
- lowering high thresholds in your doorways
If you're unable to make the changes yourself, a carer, friend or relatives may be able to do this for you. Services such as Care and Repair may also be able to help.
Some floor coverings can also make walking or balance more difficult in certain situations. Laminate and tiled floors can be slippery, so try to avoid walking in your stocking soles. At home and elsewhere, try to avoid wet floors and clean up spills right away. Some air freshener sprays can leave a film on carpets or flooring making them slippery.
Poor lighting can cause trips and accidents particularly if you already have poor eyesight. Examples of poor lighting include:
- dull lighting
- lights that cause shadows or dark areas
- bright lighting that can cause glare
Good lighting should enable you to see quickly without causing discomfort.
When lighting your home:
- always have good lighting on stairways and hallways and ensure you use the lighting if it is dull or dark
- have a lamp or light within easy reach of your bed, and keep a torch by your bed in case the power is out and you need to get up
- consider putting night lights in the bathroom, hallways and bedroom. Night lights can be useful to guide you to the nearest light switch but shouldn't be used as an alternative to switching on a light
It's especially risky moving around at night as your reactions are dulled when sleepy. Putting a light on if you have to get up to use the toilet in the night helps prevent accidents.
Changing light bulbs
If you're unsteady on your feet, or feel dizzy or lightheaded, changing a light bulb can be a falls risk. Ask a friend, relative or neighbour for help, or contact your housing provider or Care and Repair service.
If you feel strong and confident enough to change a bulb on your own, always use a step stool with a handle. It's also important to choose a bulb that gives enough light.
Furniture and furnishings
The size and build of furniture and furnishings in your home can also contribute to a higher falls risk, for instance:
- if chairs and beds are too low, it can be difficult to get up and steady yourself
- soft mattresses, pillows and cushions can also make it more difficult to get up and steady yourself
- furniture with wheels lack stability and can move unexpectedly when you try to sit or lie down
Recommendations for furniture and furnishings include:
- removing casters from the bottom of chairs, beds and tables so they become more stable, and don't move when you sit down or stand up
- moving tables against walls and away from walkways
- buying firmer pillows and cushions, or double up to give more support
Colour and contrast
The colour and contrast of furniture and furnishings can affect your safety when trying to sit down or move about. People who have a visual impairment, Parkinson's disease, stroke or dementia are more at risk of falls at this time.
When picking furniture and furnishings, it's best to have a contrast colour on the seat of a chair, bed cover and toilet to help you find where to sit. For example, if you have a light carpet, have a dark bed and seat cover.
The Dementia Centre have more information about the importance of colour and contrast
Storing and carrying items
It takes excellent balance to over-reach, bend down low or stand on a stool to get to an item in a cupboard or drawer. If you struggle with balancing, or often feel dizzy or light-headed, it's a good idea to store often-used items in your home – such as food containers, dishes and clothing – within easy reach and at a comfortable height.
If it's difficult for you to walk and carry items at the same time, ask an occupational therapist about a trolley or a caddy for a walking frame.
Where to start
Think about how you currently keep your home safe:
- what positive things do you already do identify, and remove, hazards?
- what changes can you make that might help?
- how will you make these changes?
- who do you need to talk to?
How an occupational therapist can help
An occupational therapist can help you to stay active and safe by:
- checking how you manage your daily activities
- arranging for you to get equipment – such as rails or walking aids – to make your life easier
- helping you find better ways to carry out everyday tasks around the home
If you would like further advice, or are having difficulties with everyday tasks, you can ask to be referred to an occupational therapist by contacting your local social work department, or health centre.
If you have Parkinson's disease, and are at risk of falling, Parkinson's UK have information on occupational therapy and Parkinson’s explaining how occupational therapy can help.
Further help and support
Care and Repair Scotland provides advice and assistance to enable people aged 60 or over, or who have a disability, to repair, improve or adapt their homes.
Home safety is not just important for falls, it can also help to prevent domestic fires for which older people are at most risk. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service offer free home fire safety visits to help you spot possible fire hazards and fit smoke alarms free of charge if you need them. To arrange a visit for you, or someone you know, phone 0800 0731 999 or text ‘FIRE’ to 80800.