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How To Fall-proof Your Home

08/15/2023

Falls at home can be a dangerous and debilitating problem for older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one out of four people over 65 will experience a fall each year. Unfortunately, less than half tell their doctor — meaning that many falls go unreported yet still cause serious injury or illness. In fact, over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized due to a fall injury, with head injuries and hip fractures being the most common.

The good news is that you can take steps to protect yourself from having an accidental fall in your home. Here are 10 tips for increased home safety.

Declutter and Organize

One of the most important things you can do is to reduce any obstacles in your home that can cause trips, slips, and falls. For example, remove throw rugs, cords, or wires that run across walkways and items you have on shelves that could be knocked over, like books or flower pots. If something needs to remain in a high-traffic area, ensure it's organized and put away neatly.

Similarly, if you keep your walking cane or walker in the hallway, ensure it's tucked away yet easy to reach. As you organize, think about items that you frequently use — such as a remote control for your TV or medicine stored near your bedside — and make sure they are easily accessible so you don't have to reach up high or bend down low to get them.

Check With Your Doctors

Vision, hearing, and any medications you take may significantly impact balance. Schedule regular check-ups and make sure your doctor knows all the medicines, supplements, herbs, and vitamins you're taking to avoid any interactions that could affect your balance.

If you've recently fallen or are at risk for falling due to a medical condition, talk with your doctor about an appropriate exercise program that could help improve strength and balance — such as water aerobics or Tai Chi classes.

Go For Grip and Nonslip

Grip tape and nonslip mats are two great additions to your home that can help you stay safe. Nonslip mats on the bathroom floor, around the tub, and near other wet surfaces will prevent slips when water splashes out or if you have a spill. You can also add grip tape to stairs or by your bed for extra traction, especially if carpeting is worn or has become slippery over time.

Think About Lighting

Lighting is key to preventing falls. Ensure adequate lights are throughout the house, particularly in hallways or stairwells where visibility can be a problem. Try adding nightlights, motion sensors, and even extra lamps to ensure you have enough light when it's dark outside or when entering rooms at night.

Consider purchasing special lighting products specifically designed for people with vision impairments — like LED tap lights that turn on automatically whenever they detect movement in an area. These are especially helpful if you live alone and want an extra level of security while navigating your home during the evening hours.

Likewise, smart lighting products can be programmed to gradually dim or brighten lights in different rooms depending on the time of day. One of the best home modifications for individuals with disabilities is adding high-contrast items — like dark door handles and bright doormats — to help those with vision impairments recognize common obstacles that could cause a fall.

Install Grab Bars and Handrails

Designing an accessible bathroom is essential, and grab bars and handrails are two of the most important additions that can help you stay safe at home. Install them near toilets, bathrooms, stairs, or areas where falls may occur. A professional should install these to ensure that they're properly secured — especially if you plan on putting weight on them.

In the bathroom, attach grab bars both horizontally around the bathtub and vertically on the walls outside. Be sure to place these items within reach just in case you need to use them for stability while sitting or standing. Similarly, install handrails on both sides of stairways for extra support when taking steps up or down.

Use the Right Mobility Aids

Consider the right type of mobility aid for your needs. Canes, crutches, and walkers are all great options that help you stay balanced while walking — especially when transitioning from one position to another. If these items aren't enough, consider extra support such as:

  • Rollators: These are especially useful as they can help you move freely around the house and even outdoors. Plus, some models have built-in seats and storage baskets, making them very convenient.
  • Wheelchairs: These may be necessary depending on your level of mobility. If this is the case, talk with a professional to find the best model for you that is comfortable and easy to maneuver through your home.

Regardless of what type of mobility aid you choose, it's important to practice using it until you feel confident enough to go about your normal routine at home safely. Be sure also to adjust its height according to your specific needs to avoid any falls or accidents.

Likewise, when shopping for these products, ensure they're lightweight and adjustable so they can easily be used indoors and outdoors and in tight spaces like hallways or doorways. It's also essential to purchase products with comfortable handles, nonslip wheels, and brakes that are easy to use.

Soften Stairs and Entryways

Consider investing in mats and rugs to soften hard surfaces for your stairs, hallways, and entryways. Threshold ramps are an excellent option for those with wheelchairs who need easier access to the home, as they provide a smooth transition from one flooring level to another.

Modular wheelchair ramps can also be used in areas that aren't suitable for threshold ramps — these are typically placed outdoors to provide an easier entrance and exit on raised levels.

When combined with adequate lights, grab bars, and handrails, these modifications can make it much easier and safer for individuals to move about their homes freely and independently.

Keep Your Hands Free

Having your hands free is an integral part of staying safe and stable. Invest in tools, bags, and storage solutions that will assist you in this regard — like wheelchair bags and baskets or backpacks that can be attached to the chair while you're maneuvering around. These offer extra protection and make it easier to carry items from one place to another.

Or, use a belt system with a hook so you can attach items to yourself as needed — such as grocery bags or car keys. These simple life hacks will make life much easier for individuals with disabilities to carry their groceries, personal items, and more.

Make Sure Furniture Is Secure

One of the most critical safety considerations is ensuring that furniture, TVs, and appliances are adequately secured. This is especially crucial for those with children in their household, as tip-overs can easily lead to severe injury or death. According to a recent report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on furniture, TV, and appliance tip-over injuries and fatalities, there have been 581 tip-over fatalities since 2000 — of which 472 were children ages 17 years and younger. To prevent such tragedies in your home, it's important to anchor all furniture, TVs, and appliances to the wall. Furniture straps with anti-tip kits can also be used for added safety and security.

Exercise for Strength and Balance

Regular exercise can play a crucial role in fall prevention. A combination of endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance exercises are recommended to reduce the risk of falls — and even prevent disability.

For example, endurance exercises such as walking or swimming, resistance training like lifting weights or using elastic bands, and stretching activities like yoga can help build muscle strength and improve balance.

Moreover, chair exercises and balance exercises to improve stability can also easily be done at home or in a group setting, depending on the individual's preference. In addition, physical therapy can help improve strength, balance, and coordination.

Have a Plan in Place

Last but not least, having a plan for yourself or your loved one in an emergency is crucial. This could mean having an alarm system that can be activated if needed — such as a medical alert system with fall detection technology — or investing in home safety devices like personal alarms and door monitors that will notify you if a fall does happen.

Overall, by taking the time to make safety modifications and changes and following an exercise routine tailored to your needs, you can significantly reduce the risk of falls in your home.

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