Take a Stand to Prevent Falls

by Terry Egan

This fall, Montanans need to “take a stand to prevent falls.” It’s a good time to evaluate fall prevention measures you can take in your home and your community.

Falls are not an inevitable result of aging, but are one of the main reasons older adults lose their
independence. Fall prevention can be achieved with practical lifestyle adjustments, environmental
assessments that include modifications for safety, and participation in evidence-based fall-prevention

Falls are the leading cause of injuries in older Americans, with one-third of Americans age 65 and older falling each year. Injuries from falls can be minor, severe or fatal. Suffering a fall can severely limit mobility and decrease overall quality of life.

Falls are also expensive; in 2013, for example, the cost of fall injuries was $34 billion.

Luckily, there are many good ideas to help reduce falls in older adults.

  • Make sure the home or living environment is safe and supportive.
  • Have eyes and ears checked annually.
  • Have medications reviewed periodically.
  • Participate in a physical activity that includes balance, strength training and flexibility.
  • Consider getting a fall risk assessment or attend a fall-prevention program.

Each of the activities above helps address key problem areas that can contribute to falls.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides a checklist to help families guard against falls. The checklist asks about hazards found in each room of your home. For each hazard, the checklist tells you how to fix the problem.


Look at the floor in each room. When you walk through a room, do you have to walk around furniture? Ask someone to move the furniture so your path is clear.

Do you have throw rugs on the floor? Remove the rugs or use double-sided tape or a non-slip backing so the rugs won’t slip.

Are there papers, books, towels, shoes, magazines, boxes, blankets or other objects on the floor? Pick up things that are on the floor. Always keep objects off the floor.

Do you have to walk over or around wires or cords (like lamp, telephone, or extension cords)? Coil or
tape cords and wires next to the wall so you can’t trip over them. If needed, have an electrician put in another outlet.


Look at the stairs you use both inside and outside your home. Are there papers, shoes, books or other objects on the stairs? Pick up things on the stairs. Always keep objects off stairs.

Are some steps broken or uneven? Fix loose or uneven steps.

Are you missing a light over the stairway? Have an electrician put in an overhead light at the top and
bottom of the stairs.

Do you have only one light switch for your stairs (only at the top or at the bottom of the stairs)? Have an electrician put in a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs. You can get light switches that glow.

Has the stairway light bulb burned out? Have a friend or family member change the light bulb.

Is the carpet on the steps loose or torn? Make sure the carpet is firmly attached to every step, or remove the carpet and attach non-slip rubber treads to the stairs.

Are the handrails loose or broken? Is there a handrail on only one side of the stairs? Fix loose handrails or put in new ones. Make sure handrails are on both sides of the stairs and are as long as the stairs.


Look at your kitchen and eating area. Are the things you use often on high shelves? Move items in your cabinets. Keep things you use often on the lower shelves (about waist level).

Is your step stool unsteady? If you must use a step stool, get one with a bar to hold on to. Never use a chair as a step stool.


Look at all your bathrooms. Is the tub or shower floor slippery? Put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor of the tub or shower.

Do you need some support when you get in and out of the tub or up from the toilet? Have a carpenter put grab bars inside the tub and next to the toilet.


Look at all your bedrooms. Is the light near the bed hard to reach? Place a lamp close to the bed where it’s easy to reach.

Is the path from your bed to the bathroom dark? Put in a night-light so you can see where you’re walking. Some night-lights go on by themselves after dark.

And there are several evidence-based fall-prevention programs available in communities that address these issues and provide physical activity to reduce falls. They are often sponsored by health care facilities, senior centers, health clubs and other organizations.

The National Council on Aging leads a Falls Free Initiative to address the growing public health issue of falls, fall-related injuries and deaths. The initiative includes a coalition of organizations working to make a difference in fall prevention.

Coalition members are educating older adults, caregivers and health care professionals about how they can reduce the risk of falling. They support fall prevention programs and advocate for funding more programs.

The Montana Falls Free coalition is putting together a number of activities across the state to bring awareness and action on this issue. Several communities are hosting “Take a Stand to Prevent Falls” events that include fall risk assessments, home risk surveys, health screenings and physical activity focused on balance, strength and flexibility. Check with your health care provider or senior center to learn more.

Although the risk of a falling increases with age, falls are actually not a normal part of the aging process. Be proactive with your own health and the health of those you love through awareness, addressing potential hazards and taking advantage of fall prevention activities.

Terry Egan is the associate director of the Montana Geriatric Education Center at the University of
Montana. MTGEC is an interdisciplinary center that provides geriatric education and training for Montana health professionals, higher education faculty and health profession students, so they might
better meet the health needs of the older residents of the state.

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