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Fall-Proofing Your Home

Are you taking foolish risks? - (Person standing on a stool with slippers on.)
Are you taking foolish risks?

How afraid are you of falling? When you’re a child, taking a tumble is a normal part of everyday life. As we get older, we learn how to balance better and avoid trips and spills.

Some people elevate falling to an art form. I have a friend that’s so good at avoiding the ground she’s earned the name “clumsy ninja.” It’s funny, because she looks spectacular while avoiding injury. But for older people, hitting the floor can be deadly serious.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older Americans. In 2016, there were 29,668 Americans aged 65 and older who died due to a fall. Fortunately, there are things everyone can do to prevent injuries. In this article, I’d like to share a dozen items for you to check on in your home.

Start with the lighting, especially at the top and bottom of any stairs. As we age, vision tends to diminish. Make sure lighting is good in dangerous areas so you can see hazards. Install lighting that’s easy to turn on if you need to get up in the middle of the night. Consider light switches that light up at night or turn on automatically when you enter a room. If you’re concerned about waking your partner at night, try out motion activated night-lights.

Make sure grab bars and railings are strong and in appropriate places. Stairs should have a secure handrail on both sides. Put grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower area. For more extensive remodels, there are raised toilet seats and tubs with doors so you can walk right into them.

Your bathroom should also have nonslip mats or strips in the bathtub and shower. If you’re unsteady, consider a shower seat and hand-held showerhead so you don’t have to stand.

Secure rugs that slide with carpet tape, slip-resistant backing or tacks. If they’re especially thick, you might consider getting rid of them. While you’re at it, take care of loose tile and wooden floorboards as well.

Clear walkways inside your home. Electrical cords, charging cables, boxes and other stuff you have to step over are tripping hazards. Move furniture, plants and anything else that may block high-traffic areas.

Consider replacing furniture that can cause problems. Couches and chairs need to be the right height. Anything too low may be challenging to get out of. There are chairs designed to lift you with the push of a button for people with more severe problems.

Look at where you store things. Whatever you need often should be within easy reach. That means dishes, pantry items and regularly worn items of clothing. Consider getting a “reach stick” to grab smaller items. If something is beyond the reach of a stick or is too heavy, use a sturdy step-stool to get it. Look for step stools that have a handrail on top. Never use a chair to stand on and grab things.

Be cautious of pets. Cats and dogs like to rub against ankles and walk between legs. Pay attention to where they are when you get up and move around.

Choose sensible shoes. They should be non-skid, lower-heeled and rubber-soled. Lace-up shoes tend to be better because they’re less likely to slip off and cause a problem. Avoid walking around the house in socks or slippers with smooth soles.

Be vigilant outside. If it’s wet or icy, things can get slippery. Sand or salt can reduce falls on ice, so keep some on hand for cold spells.

Plan for power outages. Keep a charged flashlight and phone next to your bed. Then, if things go out in the night, you can call for help and find your way around.

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Learn more about falls here: Deaths from Falls Among Persons Aged ≥65 Years — United States, 2007–2016

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Weekly / May 11, 2018 / 67(18);509–514
Elizabeth Burns, MPH1; Ramakrishna Kakara, MPH

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5/11/2020
Updated 1/14/2021