Is Your Home “Fall-proof?”
By: Allison Maffei, DPT,
In 2019, the CDC reports falls among adults 65 and older resulted in over 3 million emergency room visits. Common consequences of falls include broken bones including arms and hips and brain injuries. These injuries range from minor to severe many causing disability, loss of independence, or even death. In 2019 of those 3 million visits, 34,000 died from their falls.
There are many things that can reduce the risk of falls. As a physical therapist, I see patients to help with gaining strength, improving balance, and reducing dizziness, all of which put my patient at high risk for having a fall. Throughout these visits as I work with patients on assessing their risk, I consistently find that patients, even those in therapy, fail to address common safety issues in their home when actually, 60% of falls occur in the home vs. the community.
While I suppose there is no such thing as a “Fall proof” home, basic safety features can reduce your risk of falling considerably.
Stairs, including stairs to enter the house through the front door or garage, are arguably the place you are most likely to fall. Recently I have had many patients admit that they don’t have a railing on part or all of their stairs. Many people will try to balance by keeping a hand on the wall, but there is no substitute for a solid stair rail bolted into wall studs, and very little excuse not to have one as they are fairly inexpensive.
Perhaps harder to fix, but just as important is adequate lighting. We depend on our vision for the majority of our balance, so navigating stairs in a dimly lit environment is a recipe for trouble. Consider installing lights directly over the stairs with a switch up and downstairs, so you are never left in the dark. Have front steps to enter the house? Install a motion detector light so you never have to navigate your stairs in the dark. If you have visual problems, consider adding contrast to your stair by placing a strip of contrasting tape along the edge of each step, so you can clearly see where your feet are stepping.
If stairs are the most common places to fall in your home, the bathroom comes in a close second. Bathrooms can be small and difficult to navigate, especially if you use a cane or a walker that doesn’t fit. Install solid grab bars near the toilet and as you enter the show. Never depend on a towel rack or a shower door handle to hold your weight, as it might not.
Bathrooms also often have multiple rugs and mats in a small space. For added safety, get rid of rugs in front of the sink or around the toilet. Instead, wear slippers on cold tile. Put a slip-resistant bathmat down when taking a shower but pull it up when done to leave the bathroom floors clear.
Make sure the path from your bed to the bathroom is well lit so you can see where you are going in the middle of the night.
Rugs are great for making our homes decorative and cozy, and for those without carpet, rugs feel like a necessity. Unfortunately, rugs can also be a cause of falls, especially for those using an assistive device. My advice is to minimize rugs where possible, over a carpet for example. In places where a rug or mat is needed, such as by the front door, buy heavy rubber mats that won’t catch your toe. Any place a mat can be pulled up when not in use, like in the bathroom or kitchen, do so. Area rugs should be weighted or stuck down with double-sided tape. Additionally, rugs should be a contrasting color to their surroundings, so their borders are easily identified.
Other hazards on the floor include crowded furniture or clutter. Make sure there are wide, clear paths to navigate each room. If you have electric cords in the room, tape them along the wall.
In the kitchen, there is often a lot of commotion and sometimes, as we cook, we are moving fast! Keep the most commonly used things within arms reach. If you have to use a step stool occasionally, make sure you have a sturdy one with a handle. Avoid standing on chairs.
Regularly inspecting your home for risk factors is an important step in staying safe from falls. Other factors include keeping in shape and regular balance practice through sports, outdoor activities, martial arts, or yoga. Wear good footwear at home, never walk barefoot or in socks. Your slippers should go around the back of your heels to avoid shuffling. Regularly check in with your doctor about the medications you are taking to check for adverse reactions, and see an eye doctor regularly to keep prescriptions up to date.
Move better, live better!
CDC Suggestions for Home-Safety (Checklist)
Purchase Ideas (please assure to have installed professionally!!!)
Toilet seat Risers with handles