Falls are the second leading cause of accidents in the home, and 60% of all falls happen at home, accounting to more than a million trips to the emergency room every year.
Anyone can fall. But, as we age, our risk of falling becomes greater. Falls are the leading cause of injuries in older persons, resulting in hip fractures, cuts, and even serious head and brain injuries that can be fatal. Fortunately, most falls can be prevented by creating a safe living space. With a few basic changes around the house, you can “fall proof” your surroundings to prevent dangerous falls.
Let’s look at some of the best ways to make your home safe for all ages. Remember that safety measures cannot make a house completely safe or replace supervision.
- Clean up clutter. The easiest way to prevent falls is to keep your home neat and tidy. Remove all floor clutter, books, shoes, newspapers etc. and rearrange furniture to create clear pathways. Clean up messes, spills and debris immediately.
- Repair or remove tripping hazards. Tie up those computer, lamp and extension cords laying around. Coil or tape cords and wires next to the wall. If needed, have an electrician put in another outlet. Examine every room and hallway, looking for items such as loose carpets, slippery throw rugs, or wood floorboards that stick up. Then repair, remove, or replace those items. Use non-slip backing so rugs won’t slip.
- Install grab bars and handrails. These safety devices are crucial for older persons going up and down stairs, getting on and off the toilet, and stepping in and out of the bathtub. Have solid handrails on both sides of the stairway.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing. You want to feel comfortable at home, but baggy clothes can sometimes make you more likely to fall. Choose better-fitting and properly hemmed clothing that doesn’t drag on the floor.
- Light it right. Lighting is an excellent way to help prevent falls. Install brighter light bulbs where needed, particularly in stairways and narrow hallways, and night lights along whatever hallways or rooms you may use at night. Outside your home you should have lighting along walkways, on the porch, and around your garage.
- Wear shoes. Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid going barefoot or wearing socks or slippers as they present a slipping risk.
- Make it non-slip. Bathtubs and showers, as well as floors in kitchens, bathrooms, and porches can become extremely slippery when wet. Rather use non-slip rugs or consider putting down a permanent non-skid surface especially on shower floors and in bathtubs.
- Step up. Keep a sturdy step-stool around in case you need to reach higher shelves. Better yet, keep your most used items shoulder height.
- Don’t rush. Many people fall at home by moving too quickly from a sitting to a standing position and vice versa. Preventing falls like this is as easy as taking your time. Pause after going from lying down to sitting and from sitting to standing. Never rush up or down the stairs. It’s a major cause of falls.
Top tips for older adults
Fall prevention means injury prevention. Falls, with or without injury, scare many older adults so much that they limit their activities inside and outside the home, which can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness. Don’t let the fear of falling again prevent you from being active. Inactivity creates an even greater risk of falling.
The first step to avoiding falls is to understand what causes them. In addition to unsafe conditions in and around your home, poor balance, decreased muscle and bone strength, and reduced vision or hearing, can also increase your chance of falling.
Have your doctor look at all the medicines you take, even over-the-counter medicines and ask about possible side effects. If your medication causes dizziness or sleepiness, adjust your activities so you aren’t at risk of falling. Read directions carefully so you’re aware of potential reactions with other medications. Don’t mix alcohol and medications. Alone or in combination with drugs, alcohol can cause falls. Have your eyes checked by an optometrist at least once a year and update your glasses.
If you should fall…
- Try to land on your buttocks to prevent more serious injuries
- Don’t rush to get up
- Make sure you are not injured before trying to get up or letting others help you get up
Staying safe and on your feet is a matter of taking some steps to protect yourself. You can prevent falls by making the needed adjustments to your home and lifestyle, and by making sure you eat well, stay fit, and use whatever devices will facilitate your daily life while keeping you safe. Your independence and wellbeing are at stake.
References and Sources consulted:
Fall Prevention Month
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention