How Seniors Can Protect Themselves from Falling

By Kerry Knight

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While traumatic brain injuries can happen to anyone at any time, those most susceptible are the elderly.  These life-altering injuries are usually the result of a fall.  Every year, one in three people 65 years or older will fall.  Over half of all deaths due to falling are attributable to Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).  Fall risks increase with the advancement of age, with 60% of falls occurring in those age 75 or older.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS):  

“Traumatic brain injury (TBI), a form of acquired brain injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.  Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain.  A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. 

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"Other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking.

"A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms, but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation.”

Why Are Seniors More Prone to Traumatic Brain Injuries?  

Current research suggests that the aging process is associated with several structural, chemical, and functional changes in the brain, in addition to several different neurocognitive changes.  Advances in MRI technology have enabled neurologists and researchers to see the brain’s structure in great detail in an easy, non-invasive manner. The brain is very complex, composed of many different areas and types of tissue, most commonly referred to as grey matter or white matter, each of which occupy different structures or regions of the brain. The different functions of these various tissues in the brain may be more or less susceptible to age-induced changes.

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A natural result of aging sees the brain mass gradually decreasing over time. This, in turn, creates more space between the outer lining of the brain and the inner lining of the skull. Within this space are tiny blood vessels. A serious fall can tear these blood vessels, which, if injured, cause blood to seep into the brain’s cavities. This can cause serious damage to the brain and its functioning. (There is also converging evidence from cognitive neuroscientists around the world that age-induced cognitive deficits may not just be due to neuronal loss or cell death, but may also be the result of small region-specific changes to the morphology of neurons.)

Because, from a physiological standpoint, seniors’ brains are more vulnerable, a TBI can occur in an older adult who’s had even a minor bump to their head.  It could happen while getting out of a car, inside one’s closet, or taking a spill on a piece of furniture.  A common cause of falling is rising too quickly from a sitting or prone position.  

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Many medications that older adults take, such as anti-hypertensive drugs, can have a side effect of a sudden drop in blood pressure when the person stands up too quickly.   The sudden drop in pressure causes dizziness, causing the person to fall and bump his or her head on the floor or a nearby object.  The unsuspecting individual or family members may initially dismiss the fall as a “close call” when there are no immediate signs or symptoms of brain injury.  Family members and/or caregivers should watch for sudden changes in behavior over the following 24 to 48 hours.  A change in the level of consciousness, weakness on one side, or unusual changes in one’s ability to do simple activities such as getting dressed should be evaluated immediately by a physician.  

As a large number of Baby Boomers approach retirement, family members and caregivers are increasingly faced with finding ways to reduce their risk of accidents, unintentional falls, and other avoidable injuries.  The first line of defense is in the home, where, according to the CDC, 60% of all falls occur.

How to Make Homes Safer

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Make sure that all stairwells and common walkways are clear of clutter.

The bathroom is one of the most slippery and dangerous places in the house when it comes to the elderly.  It consists of mostly hard, unforgiving surfaces for someone to hit their head against when falling such as a countertop, sink, cabinet, toilet, side of the bathtub, towel rack and more. Installing grab bars on the walls can provide extra security. Also make certain the bath rug is securely fastened to the floor, so that it won’t slip. 

Installing a Walk-in Tub can solve many problems.  This specialized tub can replace the existing drop-in tub in the bathroom.  It comes with a slip-resistant seat, as sanding for long periods of time can be difficult for the elderly, especially on a wet, slippery shower floor.  Similarly, the floor of the Walk in Tub is also slip-resistant.  Instead of having to lift one’s legs over a 12 inch height on a traditional bathtub to get into a traditional bathtub, the Walk-in Tub has a short, 6-inch threshold with its water-tight door.  This door is watertight, allowing the senior to relax in comfort while bathing.  Walk-in Tubs allow seniors to have privacy, independence and dignity, as most will be able to totally bathe themselves without assistance.  The Walk-in Tub also comes with jetted systems that help to relax and heal the body.  The hand-held shower attachment inside the tub makes rinsing easier.

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Another option other than a Walk-in Tub is the Safety Suite Shower. These can be purchased as Low-Threshold or Zero-Threshold (i.e., Barrier-Free) designs. Each model accommodates a built-in seat, which can be topped with slip-resistant acrylic surface or a Brazilian Walnut seat top.   Another option is a four-legged seat made of ABS plastic. There are three different seat configurations: molded, fold-down, and four-legged seats.

The showers can be specifically configured to meet each individual’s situation. For example, in the Zero-Threshold models, the shower can be right- or left-side oriented (in terms of where the seat and hand-held water sprayer are configured). In the Zero-Threshold models, the shower can be configured on the left, center or right.  Similarly, the drain can be configured to the left, center or right, so upon installation, there’s no rerouting of existing plumbing necessary.  Both designs feature wall grips and handrails for added safety.  Safety-designed accessories with built-in grips are also available for the bathroom paper roll, towel rack and shelf.

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Add raised toilet seats with or without arms to increase ease of use and permit self-sufficiency. Some newer models come with handrails on both sides to facilitating sitting down and getting up.

Encourage your loved one to be careful about getting up too quickly, especially after lying down, resting or even sitting for long periods of time.  A security pole can be a great help for people who have trouble standing from a sitting position.  It’s portable and especially useful when there are no walls for grab bars.  Walkers can be helpful here as well.

If you have concerns about your loved one falling out of bed, consider a low bed, which reduces the possibility of injuries due to its low-to-the-ground stature.  Some beds even come with guards on the side, not unlike the upper bunk sleeper compartments in Pullman car trains. 

Finally, as a precaution in case of a power outage, keep flashlights handy in easy-to-remember and easy-to-reach places.

Perhaps the most obvious safety precaution is to make sure your loved one is using their walker.  Many seniors who are suffering from mild dementia will set their walker aside and begin to stroll around the house without it.  After all, they have been walking on their own for most of their life and the walker may be a new addition to their mobility and therefore can be easily forgotten.

 Another thing you can do to help your seniors' cognitive functioning is ensure they're getting adequate nutrition, in particular, eating a wide range of foods that have been found to promote brain health and functioning including blueberries, olive oil, certain types of seafood, and, of course, water.

By taking easy steps to make a home safer for the elderly, you can reduce the costs associated with healthcare-related ― or, God forbid ― emergency medical services, preserve a better quality of life, and perhaps even a life itself.  

In this article, I discussed the issue of senior “confusion” and also gave a brief history/overview of Alzheimer’s disease. I then discussed various steps one can take to ensure their senior can remain safer at home, and in particular, the bathroom, such as installing a Walk-in Tub and/or a Safety Suite Shower.  If you found this article useful, please share it with your family, friends and co-workers.

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If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the Comment section of this blog.  If you’d like to receive a FREE Walk-In Tub Buyers’Guide, click here.  Have a question? Feel free to contact me at the number or email listed at the end of this article and I’ll personally get back to you. It’s been my pleasure sharing this information with you.

Thanks again for visiting with us. 

Alan and Kerry Knight are the owners of Tub King, Inc., and  in Jacksonville, Florida. Together they have many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. Their companies not only provide superior products, they are also award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. If you’d like to contact them, call (800) 409-3375 or (800) 843-4231; or send an email to

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