With Americans living longer, it's never too late to take steps to safeguard your home to prevent accidental falls that could cause serious injuries, especially to older adults.
For most people, being at home means feeling comfortable and safe—you are familiar with your surroundings and know how to get around the house easily, even in the dark. As you get older, however, you may naturally begin to lose some of that comfort level.
“When eyesight, hearing, agility strength and balance aren't quite what they used to be, taking a few simple steps can make your home safer and easier to navigate, as well as help you in an emergency,” says Yuan Shao, MD, a primary care physician who specializes in geriatrics.
One of the most important safety concerns is fall prevention. This is important at any age, but especially among seniors. Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older suffers a fall. Falls are among the leading causes of both fatal and nonfatal injuries such as debilitating hip fractures and severe head trauma.
Fortunately, most falls are preventable with a little planning and caution. Here are some tips to help improve safety at home:
1. Adequate lighting is one of the best ways to prevent falls. If areas of the home are not well-lit, have additional lights installed or add lamps. Glow-in-the-dark switches or sound-activated lights can help as well. Place night lights in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and hallways.
2. Avoid unnecessary clutter. Arrange a clear path into a room. Move furniture so the path is clear and remove other obstacles such as electrical cords. Keep objects such as shoes, books and bags off the floor.
3. Check wall-to-wall carpeting for bumps or wrinkles. Ensure that tile or wood floors are not slippery. Avoid area rugs, which can slide. If you want to use them, secure them with double-sided carpet tape, especially around the edges.
4. Check that railings along staircases are secure. Ideally, install handrails on both sides of the stairs. Place colored or reflective tape at the top of each step to make steps easier to see.
5. In the kitchen, keep everyday items in lower cabinets that are easily accessible. If you need to reach into a higher cabinet, use a sturdy step stool with a rail for support.
6. Install grab bars in the bathroom near the toilet and along the bathtub or shower. Place non-slip adhesive strips or rubber mats on the tub or shower floor. Consider a walk-in bathtub to eliminate the need to climb in and out of the tub.
7. Make sure to have easy access to a phone. Place cordless phones within easy reach from the main living areas, bedroom and kitchen or consider carrying a mobile phone with you. Keep emergency numbers nearby, or program them into the phone. Consider wearing a device that will call for help in case you can't get to the phone.
“In addition to "fall-proofing" your home, ask your doctor or pharmacist to review any medications you take to see if they may cause dizziness or affect coordination,” says Dr. Shao, who practices at Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines. “Also, have your vision checked at least once a year. Vision problems may increase your chances of falling.”
Regular exercise is an excellent way to improve your balance and coordination and build strength—all of which can help prevent falls. Tai chi, water aerobics and other low-impact, low-speed exercises are good options. Check with your local hospital, gym or community center to see what's available.
And finally, if you do fall and are injured, Dr. Shao recommends calling 911 for help right away. “Even if it doesn't seem serious, the sooner you get checked and treated for any injuries, the better — especially to the head.”
Healthy Life is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps Health. For more information, or for a physician referral, visit www.scripps.org or call 1-800-Scripps.