Senior’s Guide to Bedroom Fall Prevention
Falls are costly and dangerous, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimating an annual cost of $50 billion for non-fatal incidents and $754 million for fatal incidents in adults aged 65 and older. While these numbers are just the economic effect and don’t reflect the physical pain and hardships faced by fall victims and those who care for them, there is good news. Falls are preventable.
While falls happen everywhere, we want to focus on those that happen in the home, particularly in the bedroom. We spend one-third of our lives sleeping or trying to sleep, so it makes sense to prioritize this room when trying to reduce fall risks.
Here are some steps you can take now to protect loved ones and decrease the chances of a life-changing fall.
What is Fall Prevention?
Any action you take to reduce the chance of an accidental fall is considered fall prevention. We commonly talk about it regarding older adults, but anyone with mobility challenges or neurological conditions that affect balance or strength can benefit from a fall prevention plan.
Fall prevention doesn’t have to be costly or require a complete remodel of the environment. Much of fall prevention happens at the personal level, from increasing balance to identifying physical limitations.
Seniors face greater fall-related health risks than younger adults. In fact, falls are the leading cause of death in those aged 65 and older. Fall prevention may be an effective way to decrease accidental death in seniors.
What Causes Seniors To Fall?
Seniors fall for a variety of reasons. They can fall for the same reasons everyone else does, such as navigating untidy homes or battling illness. Because age brings about new physical challenges, including decreasing strength, flexibility, balance, and even eyesight, seniors may need help to avoid some of the fall scenarios that a more mobile person could simply go around.
Worsening Eyesight and Hearing
Some, but not all, of the vision problems seniors experience are related to aging. While cataracts and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) can happen without other underlying health conditions, many of the eye problems we associate with age are related to specific health conditions. Diabetic retinopathy and retinal vessel occlusion are complications of diabetes, so managing health can prevent some vision issues as we age.
Hearing loss happens as we age, too. Most older adults with hearing loss have a combination of noise-induced hearing loss (from loud environments) and age-related hearing loss that happens when the parts of the ear wear out or fail to perform. No matter the cause, loss occurs gradually, so it may go undetected by the senior until it becomes a problem in how they function.
One in three adults between the age of 65 and 74 has hearing loss; half of those older than 75 also experience this condition.
Prescription Drug Changes and Side Effects
Humans react to medications in a variety of ways. What may keep one person up at night may not bother another person at all. Even common medications, like corticosteroids and thyroid medications (which are known to interfere with sleep), may affect people differently.
Taking these medications earlier in the day may provide some relief from sleepless nights, but it may not address all the issues. Their side effects, no matter when the medication is taken, can contribute to decreased sleep over time, which leads to an overall grogginess and lack of focus. Seniors, like everyone else, need their rest.
Other medications may cause dizziness, weakness, or confusion, especially when waking up at night. Knowing how drugs affect seniors can help caregivers, loved ones, and pharmacists plan for the proper dosing schedule and a possible replacement that won’t be as dangerous to take at night.
The CDC reports a vitamin D deficiency may be responsible for an increase in falls, so it’s also worth asking a doctor about having vitamin D levels tested.
Changes in the Sleeping Environment
Seniors may have a pattern down that keeps them from falling, from how far they need to step away from the dresser to not bump their legs to knowing how far to hop up into bed. When any of these assumptions are challenged, however, problems occur. Seniors should try to keep things neat and tidy in their rooms, even getting help from a housekeeper or family friend to manage a consistent sleeping environment that's clear of clutter and trip hazards.
Getting out of bed may become a chore as we age, especially when pain or stiffness becomes more frequent. One morning may simply bring a sore neck, but other times their back or legs may be too uncomfortable to move in the right way, causing a senior to wiggle or roll out of bed to the ground.
Pins and needles or tingling can also happen after pinching a nerve in the night. These symptoms may make it hard to put weight on a leg or cause someone to collapse. Sleeping in the best position on a sturdy and supportive mattress may reduce some of these aches and pains.
What would you do if you needed to get up and turn off the light? You would probably just get up and do it. However, it may be more than a chore when a senior with mobility or eyesight issues needs to do this. Walking back into the dark to getting back into bed is more work than needed.
This same challenge occurs with any appliance that can't be easily reached from the bed, including fans, thermostats, or alarm clocks. Even hearing aids should be placed within reach, and if something can't easily be positioned right next to the bed (like an electrical outlet), look into how you can use wireless technology to turn things on and off with an app or remote button.
Fall Risk Assessment
Ideally, your senior loved one has had a conversation with their healthcare provider about their personal risk of falling. It may even be confirmed with an in-office test or assessment showing what areas they need to improve upon to be safe.If this hasn’t happened, prioritize a visit with a provider that offers these services.
If a fall has already occurred in the bedroom, you probably have ideas of things that need to be done right away. But waiting for a fall is a poor substitute for proper assessment and planning. By bringing awareness to the situation, you allow your senior to have input into the solutions for reducing the risk of falls in the bedroom.
Talking to Seniors About Fall Prevention
If you have a senior that you love in your life, you want the best for them. However, you shouldn’t try to do all of the fall prevention on your own. Not only is it respectful to include them in these plans for safeguarding, but they will also need to do their own work to maintain flexibility, strength, and balance – with the help of their physician.
Get their input before implementing any of the following modifications.
Bedroom Fall Prevention Modifications
The bedroom may not be the biggest room in the home, but it’s very important. Start with this list of items to address as potential fall hazards for your senior.
Firmness and Age of Mattress
Use a more firm mattress, no more than 6-8 years old. If the mattress is newer but doesn't offer safe support, replace it if possible. This firmer, newer mattress will make it much easier to move around in bed, as well as get the restful sleep needed for better balance during the day.
Seniors may also like to sit down on their beds to do things like put on shoes or even take a rest. A firm and supportive mattress helps them to not slide off to the ground. Better yet, consider adding a stable chair to the bedroom, where the senior can easily and stably do sitting tasks.
A dark room creates risks for seniors who want to move about at night. At a minimum, it should be easy to reach light switches without straining or bending down. The path to the bed, furniture, closets, and other important spaces should be well-lit. Consider installing additional lighting, such as nightlights that go on by themselves in the dark.
Handrails are a simple and affordable addition to any sleep setup that ensures your senior only gets out of bed when they want to. Many models are available online, including those that easily flip up and down, like in a hospital. If the idea of a medical accessory doesn't appeal to your loved one, look into bed rails like those used for toddlers that inflate and attach to the side of the bed. You can cover them with sheets and bedding, and they are softer than the traditional alternative.
Platform and Lower Bed Frames
Falls don’t only happen while getting out of bed. Getting into bed may be difficult if it’s too high to slide into easily. Look for bed frames that sit just inches off the floor, or go with a platform bed. These skip the need for a box spring and may even offer convenient storage drawers for bedding.
We usually think of mats used on bathroom and kitchen floors, but bedroom floors can become slippery, too. If the flooring is linoleum, tile, laminate, or wood, look for non-stick skid strips that provide traction without becoming a fall hazard themselves.
Remove any small or worn mats that don't stay put or have edges uneven to the floor. Rugs on the carpet are especially bulky and may catch on slippers or house shoes.
Where you put your bed is a personal choice, but as we age, we should think more carefully about the safest place to put it. Beds in awkward corners or under slanted ceilings may do more harm than good. Instead, look for a spot that's easy to get to, isn't near sharp or uneven surfaces, and gives plenty of room to maneuver around. Making a bed also becomes difficult as we age, so consider how that chore can continue with the bed in its current position.
Consider the things that need to be within easy reach. For example, it’s a good idea to eliminate any cords or wires from crossing the path of where your loved one would walk to get to bed.
Additional Resources On Fall Prevention
Bedroom Fall Prevention FAQ
How common is it for seniors to fall out of bed?
The exact number of how often older adults who fall from the bed is still being determined, likely because they would need to self-report this incident, and they might not if it doesn't require medical treatment. However, we know that the bathroom and bedroom are the two most common places in the home to have a fall.
Can serious injury occur from falling out of bed?
Seniors can suffer injuries from any type of fall, including broken bones, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and blood loss. Unfortunately, falling from a bed isn't the only way to fall in the bedroom. By taking steps to prevent falls, including a better mattress, lower bed, and more accessible room, serious injuries won't have to happen at all.
What should I do if my senior loved one falls out of bed?
If you or a family member witness a fall, check to see that they are hurt and help them calm down. Check for bruises, cuts, broken bones, and any other signs of traumatic injury. If you see something that needs immediate attention or their life is in danger, call 911 right away.
If they don’t need immediate help, schedule to have them seen by a doctor or take notes to share at their next appointment. The doctor may want to do extra tests to be sure they didn’t experience any trauma.
If the person’s condition changes at any time after the fall, take them to a health professional.