Nearly one-third of older people fall each year, most of them in their own homes. But it's possible to reduce those numbers by a quarter, according to a new study.
Five steps can cut the risk of falls by 26%, the researchers reported in the March 10 issue of the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Those steps are: decluttering; reducing tripping hazards; improving lighting; and adding hand rails and non-slip strips to stairs.
“Falls are very common among older people. They can cause serious injury or even death, but they are preventable. In this review, we wanted to examine which measures could have the biggest impact on reducing falls among older people living at home,” lead author Lindy Clemson, professor emeritus at the University of Sydney, Australia, said in a journal news release.
The review found that people most at risk of falls, such as those recently hospitalized for a fall or those needing support for daily activities, such as dressing, would benefit the most from decluttering.
Other measures — such as having the correct prescription glasses or special footwear — didn't make a difference. Neither did education about falls.
For the study, the researchers analyzed 22 studies that included data on more than 8,400 people living at home.
Taking measures to reduce falls around the house reduced falls by 38% in people who were at a higher risk.
The reviewers estimated that if 1,000 people who had previously fallen had followed these measures for a year, there would have been 1,145 falls instead of 1,847.
“Having had a fall or starting to need help with everyday activities are markers of underlying risk factors, such as being unsteady on your feet, having poor judgment or weak muscles,” Clemson said. “These risk factors make negotiating the environment more challenging and increase the risk of a trip or slip in some situations.”
Clemson added that support from an occupational therapist is an important intervention for many people living at home.
People tend to not notice the clutter in their home or to realize that continuing to climb ladders as they always have comes with a potential fall risk if their mobility or balance is diminished, she noted.
“Preventing falls is a really important way of helping people to remain healthy and independent as they grow older, and our review also highlights the need for more research in this area,” Clemson said.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on falls and fractures in older adults.
SOURCE: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, news release, March 10, 2023