Taking safety measures becomes increasingly important as you age. As you get older, you are more prone to serious injuries — particularly from falls, auto crashes and head trauma. Understanding these risks and the steps you can take to reduce accidents can help prevent serious injury, or even death, for seniors.
- Written by Terry Turner
Senior Financial Writer and Financial Wellness Facilitator
Terry Turner has more than 35 years of journalism experience, including covering benefits, spending and congressional action on federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. He is a Certified Financial Wellness Facilitator through the National Wellness Institute and the Foundation for Financial Wellness and a member of the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE®).Read More
- Edited BySavannah Pittle
Senior Financial Editor
Savannah Pittle is a professional writer and content editor with over 16 years of professional experience across multiple industries. She has ghostwritten for entrepreneurs and industry leaders and been published in mediums such as The Huffington Post, Southern Living and Interior Appeal Magazine.Read More
- Reviewed By Bart Astor
- Published: June 27, 2022
- Updated: May 23, 2023
- 9 min read time
- This page features 11 Cited Research Articles
- Edited By
Why Is Ensuring Safety Important?
As you age, you become prone to an increasing number of injuries. These accidental injuries can be attributed to the normal process of aging, medication or related to medical conditions that present with age.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traditionally identifies unintentional injury as the seventh leading cause of death for Americans 65 and older. That means that largely preventable injuries kill more older Americans every year than kidney disease, the flu, pneumonia and Parkinson’s disease.
Incidences of the three most common injuries older adults experience have been increasing steadily since 2010. Data shows a 30% increase in deaths attributed to falls and traumatic brain injury (TBI) over the past decade, and there are 250,000 crash-related injuries involving drivers 65 and older every year.
Taking steps early to improve your safety as you age can prevent some of the most serious injuries older Americans experience and improve your overall health and retirement lifestyle.
How To Identify Unsafe Environments
Your home and neighborhood may be unsafe as you age. Some of the most common unsafe environments involve hazards that increase the risk of falling.
Being able to identify certain common hazards helps you to correct them before they cause injury. This awareness can also help you recognize hazardous environments when you are away from home.
- Stairs and Steps
- Stairs and steps can increase the risk of fall, especially if there are any broken steps or inadequate handrails.
- Because of slippery floors, shower stalls, bathtubs and other hard surfaces, bathrooms have a higher risk of falls and create one of the most hazardous spaces in an older adult’s home.
- Other Fall Hazards
- Other fall hazards in the home include loose rugs or carpets, power cords in the traffic flow areas of rooms, low furniture, clothes or shoes on the floors and poor lighting. Even pets can cause tripping hazards. Outside, uneven sidewalks and ground increases the likelihood of falls.
- Appliance Fires
- Appliances that produce an open flame or electrical appliances with damaged or frayed power cords increase the risk of fire.
- Consumer Products
- Nearly one million people aged 65 or older require an emergency room visit every year because of a faulty consumer product according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Dangerous products for older adults include home workshop tools, yard and garden equipment, ladders, step stools and housewares.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning and toxic fumes from mixing cleaning products are among the most common types of poisoning in older adults.
- Medication Issues
- Taking too high a dosage of medication can cause poisoning, while too low of a dose can fail to prevent serious medical emergencies. Drug interactions between medications can also pose serious risks to seniors.
- Sun Exposure
- In addition to an increased risk of skin cancer, older adults are more prone to dehydration, sun stroke, sunburn, heat exhaustion and eye damage. Using sunscreen and wearing hats and long sleeves can reduce sun exposure’s ill effects.
How Can You Prevent Falls?
Falls are one of the leading — and most serious — injuries among older adults. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a staggering 36 million older Americans fall every year.
One in every five falls among older adults causes a broken bone, head injury or other serious injury. And three million seniors end up in the emergency room every year after a fall.
Weakened muscles and bones, along with vision loss associated with aging, can affect your balance and increase your risk of falling.
While falls are common, falling should not be a normal part of healthy aging. There are several steps you can take to prevent falls as you age.
- Tell your doctor right away if you have fallen, feel unsteady or think you may be a fall risk.
- Ask your doctor or other health care provider about exercise programs that can help prevent falls.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications to see if they may contribute to falling or loss of balance.
- Have your eyes checked at least once a year to make sure your vision is not contributing to falls or balance issues.
- If you balance yourself by holding onto the walls or furniture, consider a cane or walker.
- If you have a cane or walker, use it at all times.
- If you have fallen in the past year — or have walking or balance issues — ask your doctor about a special fall risk assessment.
- Keep paths, hallways and stairs well-lit and free of obstructions you might trip over.
- Never rush to answer the phone. Allow voicemail to answer or carry a cordless or cell phone.
- Talk to your doctor about having your feet checked, or visit a foot specialist.
- Tape rugs to the floor to prevent trip and falls.
- Use handrails when using stairs.
- Wear non-slip footwear when walking on smooth floors.
Medical Alert Devices
Most medical alert systems offer fall detection features. These devices connect you to trained emergency operators who can assess your condition in a medical emergency and contact first responders.
With a fall detection option, a wearable medical alert device can recognize a fall. It can also detect a lack of motion that suggests you are unconscious.
In that case, the device can notify the emergency call center to dispatch first responders.
How Can You Make Your Home Safe?
Injuries in the home account for the overwhelming majority of injuries in America, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 40% of injuries men suffer, and more than half of all injuries women receive, are from accidents in the home.
Making your home safe can significantly reduce your chances of an injury. Most steps to accident-proof your home require little time and expense.
- Eliminate Bathroom Risks
- Install handrails or grab bars in the shower and tub to prevent falls.
- Set your water heater thermostat to no higher than 120 degrees.
- Use rubber mats in the shower and tub to prevent slips and falls.
- Keep These Emergency Numbers Handy
- 911 — along with the non-emergency numbers for your local police and fire departments.
- Poison control: 1-800-222-1222
- Phone number of family member, friend or caregiver in the event of an emergency.
- Your primary care doctor and other health care providers’ offices.
- Prevent Fires
- Do not overload an extension cord with too many devices or appliances.
- Do not try to put out fires in your home. Leave the house and call 911.
- Keep all heaters at least three feet away from anything that can catch fire, like curtains, bedding newspapers.
- Know at least two ways to get out of your home in case fire blocks one escape route.
- Never leave candles burning unattended even for a short period.
- Never smoke in bed.
- Replace devices and appliances with frayed or damaged cords.
- Replace your smoke detectors’ batteries at least twice a year or each time you set your clocks forward or back.
- Turn off heaters when you leave a room.
- Prevent Poisoning
- Never try to heat your home with your cook stove, oven or grill as all produce deadly carbon monoxide.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector near every bedroom.
- Replace the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector at least twice a year.
- Never mix bleach, ammonia or other cleaning products together. The mixture can create poisonous gasses.
- Ask your pharmacist to use large print labels on pill bottles to make them easier to read.
- Bring all your medications to your doctor’s office or pharmacist to make sure you are taking the correct medications, that there are no interactions between them and that you are taking them properly.
- Keep all medications in their original containers to prevent confusion.
- Take all medications in a well-lit room so you can read the labels to make sure you’re taking the right medication.
How Can You Make Transportation Safe?
Your risk of being injured or killed in a traffic accident increases as you age. Roughly one in every five drivers — 46 million Americans — are 65 and older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Older drivers are involved in 1.6 million traffic crashes each year, resulting in 250,000 visits to the emergency room and 68,000 hospitalizations. About 8,000 older Americans die in traffic crashes each year. That’s roughly 22 deaths every day.
- Always wear a seat belt, whether you are driving or riding as a passenger.
- Ask your health care provide to review your medications to determine if any may affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle.
- Consider alternatives to driving like public transportation, riding with a friend or rideshare services.
- Don’t drink and drive.
- Drive when conditions are safest. Avoid driving at night and in bad weather.
- Follow fitness plans to improve strength and flexibility.
- Have your eyes checked at least once a year, and if you need prescription glasses, be sure to wear them when driving.
- Leave extra distance between your car and the one in front of you. Your reaction time slows as you age.
- Plan your route before you drive. Look for well-lit streets, easy parking and intersections with left-turn signals.
How To Find Senior Safety Programs Near You
Senior safety programs are local and vary from one town to the next. A good way to find senior safety programs near you is to call your local city or county government to ask about what senior safety services are available in your area.
You can also contact your local Area Agency on Aging about programs that may be available near you.
The National Safety Council offers an Online Mature Driver Defensive Driving Course to help older drivers keep their skills sharp. The state police or highway patrol in many states also offer safety courses or programs for older drivers. You can also contact your state police about programs available where you live.
11 Cited Research Articles
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, May 2). Common Injuries as We Age. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/stillgoingstrong/about/common-injuries-as-we-age.html
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 17). Older Adult Drivers. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/older_adult_drivers/index.html
- National Institute on Aging. (2020, July 29). Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Keep on Your Feet — Preventing Older Adult Falls. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/older-adult-falls/index.html
- Health In Aging Foundation. (2019, June). Tip Sheet: Home Safety Tips for Older Adults. Retrieved from https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/tip-sheet-home-safety-tips-older-adults
- Szanton, S.L., et al. (2014, March 27). Improving Unsafe Environments to Support Aging Independence With Limited Resources. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4074077/
- California Highway Patrol. (n.d.). Age Well Drive Smart. Retrieved from https://www.chp.ca.gov/programs-services/programs/age-well-drive-smart
- City of Hayward, California. (n.d.). Senior Safety Tips. Retrieve from https://www.hayward-ca.gov/sites/default/files/documents/SeniorSafetyTips.pdf
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (n.d.). Older Adult Safety. Retrieved from https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Older-Adult-Safety
- U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (n.d.). Senior Safe Act Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.investor.gov/senior-safe-act-fact-sheet
- Washington State Department of Health. (n.d.). Older Adult Falls. Retrieved from https://doh.wa.gov/you-and-your-family/injury-and-violence-prevention/older-adult-falls/senior-safety