Susceptibility to Falls Increases With Age

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. April 16, 2016

Susceptibility to Falls Increases With Age


In 2005, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) initiated “a project to examine consumer product safety issues associated with older adults.” Through a review of the literature, the report “details age differences in people’s perceptual, cognitive, and physical abilities, and found that there is general agreement that most capabilities deteriorate at least somewhat with age.” This report summarizes primary age-related differences, organized under the general headings of “Sensory and Perceptual Differences,” “Cognitive and Psychological Differences,” and “Physical and Motor Differences.” As stated in the report, “Every consumer product places certain demands upon the user. Thus, the successful and safe use of a product is highly dependent on the extent to which the user has the capabilities necessary to meet those demands.

Failing to match user capabilities with product-use demands can prevent a person from using the product successfully, and depending on the circumstances, this can prove hazardous.” The report in its entirety is an excellent resource, especially for health care and home care specialists who wish to understand more fully the impact of aging on product safety risks. Specifically related to falling the report offers the following conclusions and recommendations: “Based on estimates from the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), 59 percent of product-related emergency-room visits for adults 65 to 74 years of age involve falls, and 77 percent of those for adults aged 75 and older involve falls. Typical fall scenarios include falling down stairs while descending or ascending; tripping over loose carpets, cords, or other obstacles on the floor; and falling off ladders and step stools. Based on its review of the literature, the project staff believes that the following general interventions may reduce the likelihood of falls:

  • Use uniform high-traction tread surfaces on steps or other walking surfaces. Avoid sudden or unexpected changes in surface friction.
  • Limit the need for older adults to adjust their gait to compensate for obstructions or changes in elevation.
  • Reduce the number of obstructions, obstacles, and other loose objects on the floor, ground, or other walking surface.
  • Eliminate changes in elevation when possible, particularly those that are unexpected or inconspicuous. If elevation changes are necessary, highlight this change in some way; for example, use a contrasting color on the step edge.
  • Increase illumination levels, particularly in stairways and around other changes in elevation. Highlight the edges of steps to increase conspicuity.
  • Provide and properly locate balance assists such as handrails and grab bars. Make sure these assists can be easily grasped and are firmly attached.
  • Provide conspicuous, high-contrast visual cues or anchors to assist in balance and postural control. Reduce the visual complexity of one’s environment. Eliminate visual distractions.
  • Maintain consistent riser heights and tread depths from one step to the next.”
For a copy of the report, click here: See our previous blog for information about the STEADI Tool Kit for health care providers to assess and address their older patients’ fall risk. Fall prevention efforts can reduce the risk of falling. Caregivers and older homeowners can become knowledgeable about what needs to be done to make homes as fall-proof as possible. Check here often and search for product ideas that can make you safer in your home!

Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.


Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.