Information compiled from the National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, and National Safety Council.
Five years ago, when Carol Vennes of Las Cruces was 76, she had a cat, Cinder, who loved to run and slide across the tile floor on a throw rug. Unfortunately, one day Carol also slid on Cinder’s rug—causing her to fly into the air, flip upside down, and crash down on her shoulder. She recalls lying there dazed and evaluating her situation, “OK, I can move my legs. My head isn’t hurt. I can move this arm. But I can’t move this arm!”
In great pain, she slowly scooted to the kitchen where she was able to pull a phone from the counter. It took 45 minutes. She called a friend who had a key to come help and open the locked front door for emergency responders. She ended up having her shoulder replaced and the memory still brings chills. “I have not been in that kind of pain ever that I can remember,” she says.
The result? A shoulder that still has problems and a ban on throw rugs in her house—plus she now has more cordless phones. Carol admits, “My house doesn’t look exactly as I’d like it to, but it’s for safety.”
Carol is one of the 1.6 million older adults who each year go to the emergency room for fall-related injuries, according to the National Institutes of Health. What’s more, one in every three adults over the age of 65 falls each year and “among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths.”
Falls are not, strictly speaking, simply due to increased age, The U.S. Library of Medicine reports on their website, MedlinePlus. Some medications cause dizziness, as can alcohol use. Conditions such as diabetes or heart disease can affect balance, as do circulatory problems, thyroid, or nervous system problems. Poor vision or reduced muscle strength can also be factors that lead to slips or falls.
However, there are things you can do to make homes safer for yourself or the seniors in your life. Follow this checklist to make sure your home is as safe and fall-proof as possible. And heed Carol Venne’s final bit of advice for her fellow seniors: “Don’t rush. At our age, our stability isn’t what it used to be.”
01. CLEAR A PATH
- Walkways must be clear of hazards, including pet toys, extension cords, phone or power cables, and throw rugs that are not secured with special double-sided tape.
- Create clear paths free of furniture.
- Slick floors themselves present a hazard. Don’t walk barefooted or in socks or slippers. Instead, wear shoes with good support and non-skid surfaces. There are also products that can be applied to slick floors to give them more grip.
- Wipe up spills immediately to avoiding slipping in forgotten puddles.
02. LIGHT THE WAY
- Ensure the entire home has adequate lighting, including stairways, steps, outdoor walkways, and entrances. Use the highest wattage recommended for a fixture.
- If the home has stairs, have a light switch at both the top and bottom. If there isn’t one at both locations, have it installed.
- Place night-lights that come on automatically in the bathroom, hallway, bedroom, and kitchen.
- Have lamps that are easy to turn on next to each side of the bed.
- Place a flashlight next to the bed in case of power failures.
- Consider replacing light switches with illuminated or glow-in-the-dark switches to make it easier to find them in the dark.
Consider replacing light switches with illuminated or glow-in-the-dark switches to make it easier to find them in the dark.
03. EASE THE REACH
- Re-arrange the kitchen and storage areas ensuring frequently-used items are within easy reach.
- Avoid needing to use a step stool, but if you must, ensure it is a sturdy one with a top handrail and non-skid feet for stability.
- Use a grabber to reach items too high or low to reach easily.
04. GET SUPPORT
- Have grab bars installed next to the toilet because as leg strength declines, getting up from a seated position becomes challenging. Install a raised toilet seat, too.
- Have securely installed grab bars placed in the shower or tub and use them every time you get in or out.
- Get a sturdy seat for the shower and a hand-held shower nozzle to bathe while seated.
- If the home has stairs, indoors or out, ensure that hand rails are on both sides of the stairs.
- If standing from a chair is difficult, consider a powered lift chair.
05. MIND THE LITTLE THINGS
- Ensure cabinet doors and drawers are closed after use to avoid a collision.
- Use a cordless or cell phone that can be with you always to avoid rushing to grab a call on the other side of the room or house. It can also be used to call for help in case of emergency.
- Don’t rush to answer the doorbell.
- Install non-skid tape in the shower or tub, or securely place a non-slip mat.
Have securely installed grab bars placed in the shower or tub and use them every time you get in or out.
06. ADD A PERSONAL TOUCH
- Increase your strength. Talk to your doctor about walking, water exercise, or Tai chi, all of which can improve stamina and balance.
- If necessary for stability, consider a cane or walker. Get help from experts selecting and using one properly.
- Get training from a physical therapist to improve mobility and stability.
- Talk to your doctor about falls or times you nearly fell. Discuss medications and medical conditions to see if changes can be made to reduce dizziness or weakness.
- Get an annual eye exam to make sure you are seeing clearly and wear prescribed glasses.
- Consider a personal emergency response system to get help if you fall. Some detect falls and call for help automatically and others are only triggered by you and can be used for a variety of emergencies.