It’s a fact: As we get older, our risk of falling rises. According to the National Institute on Aging, one in three adults over the age of 65 will fall every year. Furthermore, more than 1.6 million senior citizens in the United States visit emergency rooms annually for fall-related injuries. Although people of all ages can suffer falls anywhere, at any time, more than half of all falls take place in what should be the safest area of all — the home.
Many factors can contribute to the risk of a fall. Some are directly related to the rigors of aging. These include muscle weakness (particularly in the legs), poor balance, blood-pressure changes, and impaired vision. However, other factors, such as medications — or simply a slippery rug or floor — must be taken into account as well. The more factors present, the greater the risk. Simple steps can reduce these fall risks, and the best place to start is in your own home.
Fall-Proofing Your Home: The Basics
The simplest way to reduce many fall hazards at home is to take a look at your surroundings and identify anything that might cause tripping or slipping. Begin by keeping a clean, clutter-free living space. Move electrical cords, pet food bowls, etc., out of your typical traffic area. Never leave items on your staircase or in a hallway or other narrow space. Arrange your furniture so you have plenty of room to move about.
Check carpets and rugs to make sure they are secured. Non-carpeted floors may need non-slip strips or mats to avoid slippery spots. Be very cautious when cleaning the floors. Avoid walking on them when wet, and use non-skid wax only. And be sure to clean up spills right away!
Add Reinforcements: Lights and Handrails
After ensuring you can walk safely around the house, make sure you can see — and give yourself a hand! Improve the lighting in your home. This is especially helpful for seniors experiencing impaired vision as they age. Install high-wattage lighting at the top and bottom of stairs, at entryways to each room, and on outdoor paths. Place a lamp by your bed and keep a flashlight nearby for backup. Use nightlights throughout the house, too.
Next, steady yourself. Add stabilizing props such as handrails along stairways and walkways. Install grab bars in the bathroom to allow safe use of the toilet and bathtub/shower. Make sure all rails and bars are anchored securely to the wall and can support your weight.
You might also consider rearranging items that you use every day (dishes, food, clothes) so that they are within easy reach and do not require a stool or ladder. Or invest in a grabber device. This will allow you to reach things that are high up — and avoid bending over to pick things up off the floor.
Take Care of Your Health and Eyes
Since muscle weakness is a prime cause of falling, seniors who are physically active considerably reduce their risk by maintaining strength and balance. Low-impact exercises such as walking can help build stronger bones. Check with your doctor to find an exercise plan that works for you.
If you haven’t had your eyes checked recently, now is the time to start regular visits to the optometrist or ophthalmologist to monitor age-related vision issues. Seeing clearly is important to avoid falling. If you wear glasses for distance vision, keep them clean and wear them around the house. If you use multi-focal or reading glasses, do not wear them while walking around the house — they can distort your sense of distance.
Be careful with any changes in medication. Some prescriptions can cause dizziness, drowsiness, or confusion. Tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what other drugs, supplements, and vitamins you take on a regular basis so they can determine what medicine works best with your repertoire. And be sure to limit alcohol use. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect your balance, especially in conjunction with medications.
Check Your Feet, Too
Take a look at your footwear. Well-fitting shoes help you keep your balance. Backless shoes, flip-flops, and high heels can all prove hazardous for everyday wear. Look for non-slip rather than smooth soles. Going about the house in just socks increases the risk of slipping, too.
Finally, consider a cane or walker to help you maneuver about the house and beyond. A physical therapist can show you the right way to use these.
With a little bit of careful planning at home, plus adjustments to your daily schedule, the risk of falling can be significantly reduced. Then you can enjoy an independent and active life well into your golden years.
Learn more with After55.com’s home safety checklist for seniors to prevent falls.