What’s the largest cause of hospital admissions for older people? You might guess that it’s the latest winter flu bug. But you’d be wrong – it’s a more of an everyday problem.

Nearly a quarter of a million older people go to hospitals in England every year after falling. Even when bones aren’t broken, trips and tumbles can damage someone’s confidence, mental wellbeing and independence.

They’re a major cause of people moving from their own home to long-term nursing or residential care.

Helping the elderly stay steady on their feet

As many as 30% of over-65s will take a fall during 2018, costing the NHS a whopping £2.3 billion a year. As is often the case, nearly everyone underestimates the risks of this happening to a loved one. That’s not a big issue if they are able to bounce back, but if they are older, disabled or less mobile, it’s yet another worry.

Many older people with mobility issues assume that there’s not much they can do to prevent falls. But despite their fears, falls don’t need to be an inevitable part of growing older. You can do things to keep your parents and older relatives safer, such as re-organising their home. And if accidents do happen, there are products and services you can choose to help minimise the harm – such as fall alarms and fall sensors.

Everyone has different needs, so if you’re helping to support an elderly relative, it pays to spend some time observing. Watch them moving around the house and put yourself in their shoes.

What things are they doing that might make them feel unsteady?

Where does this happen, and at what times of day?

For example, many older people are vulnerable at night during a trip to the toilet. Fitting a light switch close by and keeping the hallway well-lit might make all the difference.

Good lighting is important full stop – when someone’s vision is declining, it’s easy to become disorientated or stumble. And if your loved one’s eye test is overdue, get one in the diary. About 30% of visual impairment in people over 75 comes from wearing the wrong glasses (or none at all). Even if your relative is lucky enough to have good eyesight, age isn’t on their side. At 60 years old, your eyes need at least three times the light to work as well as they did when you were 20! No wonder many older folk find it difficult to see the edges on stairs and pavements when they look down.

Remaining active and independent

Balance problems and muscle weakness also causes falls. If it’s appropriate, encourage your loved one to improve their strength by joining exercise classes or other physical activities. We know this works – one study shows that a tailored exercise programme can reduce the risk of falling by up to 50%. Exercise is great for mental health and confidence, too. Where a bit of help is needed, make sure there are bannisters or handrails where needed, and non-slip mats in the bathroom.

If a fall does happen, a fall alarm can be a real lifesaver. Signalling for help quickly can stop an accident turning into an emergency – especially in winter when homes and gardens can become very cold. The detector is worn like a necklace or a watch, and automatically triggers an alert to a monitoring team if the wearer has taken a tumble.

One of the best things about fall detectors is that they’re automatic. They send an alert – day or night – without the wearer having to do anything themselves. No-one needs to worry about mastering a mobile phone, or keeping it nearby, or fiddly touchscreens. What’s more, the fall sensor checks on its own battery life every day, so you don’t have to.

If the fall detector sends an alert, a response team will pick this up straightaway and take the appropriate action, providing help and reassurance when it’s needed the most. With different sensitivity settings, false alarms are rare – and, if there is one, the wearer has time to cancel it.

With PPP Taking Care, you can add fall alarms and other sensors to work alongside your personal alarm service whenever you choose. Each gives additional protection around the home and you can add them as your relative’s circumstances change. With our personal alarm services, we already help over 52,000 people stay in the homes they love. We offer 24/7 help at the touch of a pendant or alarm unit, plus a medical support line staffed by qualified nurses. We also have pharmacists on hand to answer questions on pills and prescriptions.