As we age, falls around the home can become more likely. There are multiple reasons why, including loss of muscle strength or bone density, arthritis or other joint problems, balance issues, medication side effects or vision or hearing loss.
Falls are a leading reason why many of us will make trips to the emergency room or be admitted to a rehabilitation and skilled care center (nursing home). The older we get, the more difficult it can be to recover fully from a fall, and falls are often a trigger for other serious health issues. Falls are the leading cause of injury death among adults 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. Click here for more facts about falls from the CDC.
Preventing or minimizing the likelihood of falls is just good planning. There are some simple things you can do to evaluate and modify your living environment to decrease the risk.
Where the rubber meets the road
Check the flooring throughout your home. Does anything need to be replaced? Carpet and other flooring can become worn, damaged and have loose edges or seams. Thicker pile carpets can be easy to trip on. Other types of flooring types can be slippery. Throw rugs may slip beneath you or entangle your feet. Removing throw rugs might be the best option, but if you just can’t part with them, at least secure them with double-back tape or buy non-skid rubber backed rugs.
Take care of those tootsies
What kind of shoes are you wearing? Certain styles of shoes can increase the likelihood of falls, but finding a good fitting pair of shoes does not mean that they have to be ugly. There are many fashionable brands that can also support your feet and improve balance. Check with a podiatrist, visit a shoe specialist or ask a friend who has had a good experience finding comfortable and supportive shoes.
If you are a pet owner, you would probably do just about anything for your companion. But our four-legged friends can unintentionally get underfoot at times. Consider “alarming your pet.” Attach a small bell to the pet’s collar so you can hear him or her coming. This may prevent your pet from sneaking up on you and causing you to trip or stumble.
The stuff of life
Look around and see if you’ve collected more stuff than you need in your living space. That extra stuff in a pathway can be dangerous. As you accumulate stuff, it can get more difficult to find what you are looking for and to get to it. You stretch, reach… and tumble! Recycle magazines and papers as soon as you have read them by giving to the neighbor or a local senior center. Keep electrical cords to a minimum and out of the way. If you have too many extension cords around your home, visit with an electrician about putting in additional outlets. Don’t store items above your reach. Many falls occur when individuals try to use chairs or stepstools to get to their stuff. If you do need to store things out of reach, ask a family member or friend to assist you.
Stairway to heaven
If your home has a stairway, make sure it’s not open on either side. There should be a sturdy hand railing in place. Make sure they’re are in good shape, with no loose boards. If stairs are getting hard to navigate, consider installing a chair lift to safely move from one level to another. Grab bars installed in other high-use areas can provide added stability similar to handrails, as you move up, down or need additional support.
Is this the Indy 500?
Sometimes we just need to slow down. Being rushed increases the chance of getting caught off guard and reacting to something you didn’t expect in a way you wish you hadn’t. Install additional phones if you find yourself in a hurry to get to the phone when it’s ringing. Wear a fanny pack or a garment with pockets around your home to carry a mobile phone or other items you find yourself going for often. If you use a cane or walker, have backups in another part of the home, your vehicle or at frequently visited family members homes.
Being proactive with adjustments to your environment and routine can help lessen the likelihood of falls. Don’t “fall” for the idea that making change is a sign of aging weakness. It’s a normal part of planning that will help you maintain your well-being and a fall-free lifestyle for many years.
By Corey Thompson, MSAS
Manager, Senior Living