If you are frail, elderly or have osteoporosis or other health conditions, you may be at risk of becoming seriously injured in a fall.

Here are some extra precautions you can take to protect yourself in case you fall.

  • Hip protectors can prevent a hip fracture by absorbing some of the impact if you fall.
  • Falls mats or flooring soften the impact if you fall and decrease the chance of injury.
  • Medical alert services allow people to call for help if they have fallen.

It is important to have a plan in place in case you fall when you are home alone.

Consider hip protectors as a way to reduce the risk of hip fractures.

There is minimal evidence on the use of hip protectors for populations other than older adults in long-term-care settings. However, some individuals may consider hip protectors—for example, those in hospital at risk for hip fracture, or those living in the community with osteoporosis engaging in higher-risk activities (e.g., sports or walking on icy sidewalks).

What are hip protectors?

Hip protectors are hard plastic shields or foam pads used to absorb energy from a fall or shunt the force of impact from a fall to avoid serious injuries, including fracture and associated pain, loss of mobility, and death. Hip protectors work by reducing the amount of force to your hip.

There are different types of hip protectors available.

  • Protectors with hard shells deflect force away from the hip when you fall.
  • Protectors with soft shells absorb the force when you fall so less force reaches your hip.
  • brief style hip protector looks like bike-shorts and has hard or soft shells sewn into the material or placed into inside pockets. You can wear these over your underwear or as underwear themselves. This style of hip protector is also available as shorts or pants.
  • belt style hip protector is an adjustable belt that goes around your hips with hard or soft shells attached. These can be worn under or over your clothing, whichever is more comfortable.

Find the hip protector that is right for you

All hip protectors can help prevent a hip fracture if you fall. It is important to find the type that is most comfortable and convenient for you. Here are a few tips to help you choose and fit your hip protector.

  • Hip protectors range in size from extra small to extra large. The size is based on your hip circumference. Use a measuring tape to measure around the widest part of your hip (i.e. near the top of your thigh) to determine which size is best for you.
  • Try on different types and sizes of hip protector, including both hard and soft shell designs and brief and belt styles to find one that fits well and is comfortable.
  • Look in the mirror when you have the hip protector on to make sure you like the way it looks.
  • Check to make sure that the hip protector is washable.

Wearing your hip protector

Most falls happen due to unexpected slips, trips or stumbles in your house. Since you never know when this may happen, hip protectors should be worn all the time. It is best to have two hip protectors if possible, so you can wear one while you are washing the other.

For your hip protector to work properly and be comfortable it must be in the correct position. The centre of the hip protector shell should be centered over the bones you can feel on the outside of your leg near the top of your thigh.

Buying a hip protector

You can buy hip protectors from most medical supply stores. Call ahead to see if they have a range of styles and sizes, and will allow you to try to them on for you buy one. Many hospitals and long-term care facilities also carry a range of hip protectors that you can try on before buying.

Veteran Affairs Canada and some extended healthcare plans will help pay for hip protectors if you have a prescription from your doctor. Contact your insurance company or healthcare professional for more information.

Falls mats and flooring provide a softer surface that absorbs force and reduces the chance of a serious injury if you fall. People are less likely to be injured if they fall on an impact-absorbing floor compared to if they fall on wooden floors or carpet.

There are several different names used for absorbent mats and flooring that can decrease your risk of injury if you fall – falls mats, safety mats, bedside mats, safety flooring, protective flooring, low stiffness flooring and compliant flooring.

Deciding between mats or flooring

Falls mats come in many different sizes and can be placed in areas where you may be more likely to fall, such as next to your bed or in the bathroom.

Falls mats can be a tripping hazard since they change in the height of the flooring where the mat is placed. The thicker the mat, the more the floor height increases and the more likely you are to trip over the mat. Some mats have bevelled edges so the increase in floor height is gradual. Mats that are a contrasting colour to the floor can also be easier to see and less likely to trip on.

Falls flooring covers an entire room, such as your bedroom or bathroom. So, regardless of where you fall in that room, you will land on the flooring and your risk of getting injured will be decreased. Falls flooring comes in custom sizes to fit any room. Since there is no unexpected increase in floor height with falls flooring, there is no tripping hazard. Rubber ramps are available so the flooring gradually increases in height as you enter the room.

Buying your falls mat and flooring

When buying a falls mat think about the thickness, surface material (how slippery it is), colour and cost. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Falls mats and flooring:
    • Thicker flooring and mats are more effective in ”softening the blow”  of a fall.
    • Thicker floor mats may be harder to stand on it and wheel mobility aids over without losing balance.
    • Mats and flooring should have a non-slip surface
    • The material should be easy to clean and should not absorb liquid.
  • Floor mats:
    • Since thicker mats are more likely to cause tripping, it is safer if they have bevelled edges.
    • The colour of the mat should contrast the colour of the flooring or carpet it is on so it is easy to identify where the change in floor surface begins and ends.

Installing your falls mat and flooring

How much a falls mat and flooring weigh depends on the size, material and thickness. Some can be very heavy and difficult to put into position and install. Ask a family member, friend or handyman to install your falls mat or flooring.

Medical alert services allow you to call for help if you have fallen. This valuable support system for older adults can provide much needed peace of mind to the individual and to their family.

How does it work?

In your home

People subscribe to a medical alert company. They are given a pendant style necklace or a button that is worn on the wrist. If the person has a fall, they push the button to call 24-hour Response Centre, who can help assess the situation and call for emergency help on the person’s behalf. For more protection, people can choose a fall detection button, which will automatically call a Response Centre if it senses a fall.  Buttons are usually water resistant or waterproof.

A response associate will answer your help call through a two-way communicator unit. They can also contact a friend/family member, or emergency services depending on the situation. They will then follow up to confirm that help has arrived.

Outside your home

Many medical alert services also offer mobile buttons that work outside the home using GPS tracking technology to determine your location if you need help.  The mobile button needs to have access to cellular network so may not work in remote or rural locations.

Note: Not all medical service alert providers are the same, and you are encouraged to look at your options to find out what a company provides in terms of installation, servicing, and ongoing support.