How to Fall-Proof Your Home
Falling is one of the biggest health hazards faced by aging Americans. Every year in the U.S., more than 800,000 older adults are hospitalized for injuries resulting from falling, most notably, broken hips and head injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These injuries are costly, painful and sometimes require surgery. They can also mean lengthy periods of recovery that interrupt an otherwise robust life. The good news is that there are a lot of easy steps you can take to reduce the chances of a fall happening.
One of the simplest places to start is also the most common site for falls: inside the home. Fall-proofing your home, or the home of an aging loved one, means taking a close look at a variety of factors, from lifestyle to the physical environment to daily habits.
Tips to fall-proof your home
Wear proper footwear
Choose shoes or slippers with soles and backs. Avoid slides or flip-flops, which provide less stability and can slip out of place, causing you to trip.
Get your eyes checked
Not being able to see your surroundings clearly is a big factor in falling. Eye exams should be administered regularly for older adults to ensure eyeglass prescriptions are up to date and optical issues are addressed. Half of all adults will have cataracts, which cloud vision, by the time they are 80.
If you have a cane or walker, use it at all times
If you use an assistive device such as a cane or walker, be sure to use it correctly and at all times. Resist the temptation to prop it in the corner and go it alone. For additional advice, read our blog post about walking safely with a walking aid.
Don’t use furniture or walls as a walking aid
Using chairs, tables or the wall to assist you as you walk is not a good idea, as they can throw off your balance. If you find yourself reaching for help, it’s time to get a cane or walker.
Place frequently-used objects in accessible locations
Keep cell phones, reading materials, the remote control and other items you use often in easy reach on a table or in pouch that can be attached to a walker.
Don’t attempt to reach something high
It’s hard for some older adults to accept that they shouldn’t do some of the household tasks they’ve done historically, such as standing on furniture or a step ladder to reach something high. Wait for a friend or family member to help. Nothing is so important it should put you at risk for a fall.
Keep stairs and walkways clear of clutter
Older adults sometimes complain about the inability to walk around their home with ease because of clutter or unnecessary furniture. Be sure walkways are free and clear of any impediments. This is especially important for seniors with walkers.
Eliminate throw rugs and electrical cords that could cause tripping
Walk through the house carefully, and note any throw rugs or electrical cords that protrude. Throw rugs and area rugs can get caught under a walker, especially when their corners are bent. Tuck electrical cords neatly out of the way so they are not in walking paths.
Use nightlights or leave on lights at night
Falling often occurs when an older individual gets up during the night to go to the bathroom and can’t see in the dark. Be sure to leave on a nightlight or hall light to illuminate the path to the bathroom.
Place a non-slip mat in bathtub/shower
Slippery, wet surfaces are also culprits when it comes to falling. Place non-slip mats in the tub or shower, and cover the tile floor with a non-slip bathmat.
Install sturdy grab bars and railings
Grab bars are a great way to ensure seniors can get in and out of the shower without losing their balance. Sturdy railings should also be installed at front porch steps and other key transition points in a home. All interior and exterior staircase railings should be inspected for stability.
Make sure pets are not a hazard
Pets bring joy and provide companionship, but they can also be trip hazards when they jump up or walk in the way of an older adult. If a senior has a pet, be sure it’s well behaved. When a person at risk for falls visits someone who has pets, take steps to ensure pets are secured.
Brittany McLeod, PT, DPT, is a licensed Physical Therapist with a specialty in orthopedics on staff with HPRC St. Francis Main Campus since 2013. She received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy degree in 2012 at Upstate Medical University in New York and her BS degree in Health Science at SUNY Brockport New York in 2009. Brittany is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association, Orthopedic Section.