Falls can cause injury and medical expenses. As retirees live longer falls become more common and more injurious. However, a few simple changes to your living spaces can reduce the risk of a fall at home.
Falls are the #1 cause of injuries in older people and often lead to hip fractures, cuts, and sometimes even serious head injuries that can be fatal. They can also be very frightening.
Six out of ten falls among retirees occur in their own homes.
One-third of all persons over 65 fall each year. In addition, two-thirds of those who fall have another fall within six months. By the time retirees reach the age of 85, falls become a leading cause of their deaths.
In 2016, a cost-benefit analysis undertaken in New Zealand on the value of home renovations designed to reduce falls found that, over three years, there was a 33% reduction in the medical expenses to treat injuries arising from falls and that these savings outweighed the costs of the renovations.
Why do falls get more likely as we get older?
Firstly, as older adults we have growing issues concerning our health, just because we are aging. These include impairment of our senses such as eyesight, hearing and sense of smell, failing health due to chronic diseases such as diabetes, as well as the degeneration of our muscles, bones and mind.
Secondly, about half of all falls are caused by risk factors in the home, such as slippery floors, loose rugs, electric cords running across the floor etc.
Thirdly, the other half of these falls are caused by our habits, such as rushing like youngsters to answer the phone.
Here’s how you can reduce the risk … some are just common sense and others involve remodelling your home.
First steps to prevent falls in the home
This are the easy common-sense things you can do:
- Clean up clutter … the easiest way to prevent falls is to keep your home neat and tidy. Remove all clutter, such as old magazines, especially from your living areas, hallways and staircases.
- Remove tripping hazards … examine every room in your home looking for things such as slippery throw-rugs, loose carpets, wooden floorboards that stick up, and remove or fix them.
- Avoid loose clothing … don’t wear baggy clothes as these can cause you to trip if they drag on the ground or bunch up.
- Wear shoes or slippers with straps … socks can feel more comfortable but they can cause you to slip. Alternatively, you can buy non-slip socks that have grips on the soles.
- Non-slip mats … put these in places that become extremely slippery when wet, such as floors in kitchens, bathrooms, and showers, as well as tiled floors.
- Move slowly and carefully … where you rise suddenly from a sitting position you can get dizzy for a few seconds and so fall. Just take your time and move slowly. Before walking, look ahead to see and avoid any hazards in front of you. Don’t rush … you are no longer a sure-footed, fast-reacting youngster.
Remodelling you home to prevent falls
The costs of some of these suggestions to reduce falls in your home can range from reasonable to quite expensive.
Live on one level
Doing so avoids the risks involved with negotiating stairs and other tricky movements.
However, if you live in a multi-level home, living on one level will usually involve buying or renting another home. It also means moving out of a home where you have lived for years and is full of memories … not a palatable idea. It is also an expensive move.
These are crucial for using the stairs, walking along corridors, and so on.
Handrails should be installed along the walls of hallways. On stairs it is a good idea to install them on both walls if possible so you can use them to pull yourself up or hold them going down.
Installing them is not expensive. In fact, it’s a do-it-yourself job or you can get a handyman to help.
Generally speaking, to avoid falls, older people need two or three times more light than younger people.
However if you have specific problems with your vision, such as glaucoma, increasing the light may actually reduce your vision and increase your risk of a fall.
A foot-candle (fc) is the most common unit of measure used by lighting professionals to calculate light levels.
According to the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, you need 30fc for ambient lighting and 100fc for tasking lighting, eg reading a book or newspaper. To measure the light in your home accurately, you can get a light meter in a hardware shop, camera shop or department store.
As we get older our eyes find it harder to adjust to sudden changes in the intensity of light. Thus lighting should remain fairly constant except when you need task lighting. This is especially important in hallways and on staircases.
You can reduce glare during the daytime by using lace curtains or blinds.
Light switches should be positioned at a comfortable height for you and may need to be repositioned if you develop a stoop.
Pressure-plate controls are more user-friendly. The plates around the switches can be replaced with ones that glow in the dark.
Installing night-lights in your bathroom and bedroom can reduce the risks of bumps and falls at night.
The front door to your home
This is a high-risk area, especially when you are coming in out of the rain or carrying things that can put you off balance.
To reduce these risks, make sure that any strip dividing the inside and outside floors of the entrance is flush with both floors, and the surface of the floor inside the door is made with non-slip material.
Make sure your foot fully fits on each step on the stairs and that the height of the steps is comfortable for you. Each step should be covered in non-slip material.
This is in many ways the riskiest place for falls. But there are plenty of things you can do to make your bathroom safer.
Grab bars … are a must-be-installed. Grab bars should be installed next to toilets and in bathtubs and showers, ie anywhere you’ll need them to haul yourself upright or grab them to prevent a fall.
They make bathing and the use of the toilet so much safer. Just their mere presence alone can make older people less fearful of falling.
Fear of falling can actually increase the risk of falls. So, it’s no surprise that three-quarters of older people use grab-bars 100% of the time.
Grab bars, however, need to be tailored to individual needs … heights, angles, space from the wall and colours need to fit your personal physical needs.
Installing them is a simple task for a DIY handyman.
Raised, padded toilet seat … these fit on top of the standard toilet bowl instead of the standard seat. They make getting up and sitting down a lot easier and, like the grab bars, they are easy to fit .
Non-slip strips … for the floor of your bathtub or shower are absolutely necessary.
Bath or shower seat … can reduce your risk of a fall while washing your body.
Soap … a soap shelf right next to where you will be sitting or standing in the shower can be very useful, but a liquid-soap dispenser, securely fastened to the wall, is even better as there is no chance that it can fall to the floor of the shower or bottom of the tub.
Other useful things that reduce your risk of a fall include:
- Suction-bottomed foot scrubber sandals … grip the bottom of the tub or shower. Their foot-scrubbing action cleans the soles of your feet without you having to bend down.
- Reacher/grabber … for picking up things. Think of it as an extension for your arm. It enables you to pick up things without having to stretch and risk falling over.
- Seat in front of the washbasin … enables you to sit in safety when just washing your face and hands. The seat should be wide enough to fit your butt comfortably and have padded armrests.
- Magnifying mirror … saves having to lean forward and risking a fall when you are examining your face.
- Hand-held small magnifier … is useful for reading the labels on pill bottles.
- Bathmat … outside your bathtub or shower will prevent slips when you are getting out.
Remodelling your bathroom
The best thing you can do with your bathroom is remodel it by getting rid of the bathtub and installing a shower.
This can be expensive as you need to install a wet-floor, that is a tiled floor with a drain hole that slopes gently so that water runs into the drain opening.
In addition, you need to make sure that there is no step from the bathroom into the shower.
The shower should contain an adjustable seat and all necessary grab bars tailored to your personal needs, to minimise the risk of falling. The shower should have non-slip strips and the suction-soled foot-scrubber sandals as mentioned above.
This is not a job for a DIY artist. It requires a plumber and building contractor.
There are several things you should check on your stairways.
- Make sure there are light switches that are easy to reach at both the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Ambient lighting in the stairwell should be bright and homogenous, without any glare or shadows.
- Make sure that the stair depth is wide enough so that your foot fits comfortable and you heel is not hanging out over the step below.
- Also make sure that the height between steps is not too much for you.
- If the stairs are carpeted, check to make sure the carpet is fixed firmly in place.
- If the stairs are uncarpeted, make sure they have a non-slip surface.
- Make sure that there are handrails on both sides of the stairs, that the rails are firmly secured, and that they run the entire length of the stairs
The kitchen is not as high-risk as the rest of the house. Here are a few hints to make this room safer:
- Use low shelving (say waist high) for your most used items, eg pans
- Use a metal self-balancing stepladder with a handle at the top to reach higher items and take them down.
- Non-slip mats for the floor can also be useful.
While not as dangerous as other areas in the house, such as the bathroom, the living room does pose a few dangers of its own. Here are some tips:
- Ensure that the walk from, for example, the kitchen to the dining table is clear of all obstacles. This can be done by rearranging the positioning of your furniture.
- Minimise the amount of furniture as far as possible
- All electrical cords should be kept out of the walking routes. Avoid using extension cords if possible and certainly not across the middle of the room
- Remove all rugs as it is easy to trip over the edges. If you must have them, put double-sided tape under the edges so they stick to the carpet underneath.
- Check your carpets for frayed edges which should be cut off. If they are badly frazzled, change them if possible. It is very difficult at our age to recover from tripping without falling down.
Making your home safe is a matter of common sense and knowing how to abate obstacles that can cause you to fall.
Hope this article helps you understand the risks and gives you the knowledge to put in place measures that reduce your risk of falls.
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