Falls are the primary cause of injury-related emergency room visits and accidental deaths in people over the age of 65. In fact, according to the CDC, more than800,000 patients a year are hospitalized due to a fall injury, the most common being a head injury or hip fracture.
Statistics show 67% of accidental falls don’t happen from a height, but rather when individuals slip or trip. The good news is there are several steps we can take to make our homes and living areas safer. Here are 10 suggestions to help minimize your fall risk:
- Throw out the throw rugs. Throw rugs tend to bunch up, making them a common trip hazard. The best option: Don’t use them at all. If you do have a throw rug, try to keep it in an area that is not used often, or secure it with double-sided tape, tacks, or a slip-resistant backing.
- Clear the clutter. Keep things up off the floor and ensure that any tchotchkes (as my mother calls them) stay clear of the floor and walkways.
- Mind the steps. When a staircase is too steep or long, you may not have the strength to make it to the top because steeper stairs work the muscles more. It is also easy to misjudge where the step is, causing the foot to “catch” the step on the way up or miss the step on the way down. If steps are necessary, be sure there are handrails installed. Consider installing non-slip treads on bare wood steps. Make it a habit to turn on the light before going up or down stairs.
- Keep the lighting just right. When you keep your home dimly lit, it increases the likelihood that you may trip over something you did not see. Alternatively, keeping your living area too bright can create glare.
- Watch those pets. Our pets like to be the center of attention and oftentimes lie in prime walking areas or right by our feet, making them a serious trip hazard. My own dogs love to stand behind me when I’m at the stove, waiting expectantly something to drop. More than once, I’ve turned around to grab something and a dog is right underfoot. Remain aware of where your pets are. When you stand up from a chair or are turning around, take a moment to check there are no pets under your feet.
- Invest in sturdy furniture. When chairs or sofas don’t have sturdy arms or back rests, they can easily contribute to a fall. Make sure that any chair or sofa you sit in has adequate support and little movement.
- Be smart with extension cords. Make sure extension cords stay close to the walls and don’t stretch across walkways.
- Consider a few bathroom upgrades. The bathroom is a common area for falls. Install bars along the wall and/or use a booster seat to make standing up from the toilet easier. Have a sturdy plastic seat for the shower or tub and a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down. Use non-slip mats in your bathtub or shower. Place nightlights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways. Consider trading traditional light switches for glow-in-the-dark illuminated switches.
- Practice smart storage. Store clothing, dishes, food, and other necessities within easy reach instead of needing a step ladder.
- Mind the pavement. Driveways can cause problems because of the slope, while cracks in sidewalks and pathways leading to and from your house can also be problematic. Awareness is key — take your time when navigating uneven surfaces and make a point to be extra careful. Slow and steady will always win the race.
Kerry Cohen is a clinical doctor of audiology with 15 years experience working with people of all ages and in a variety of settings. Dr. Cohen is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, a member of the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association, and a member of the Georgia Academy of Audiology.She sees patients at the Greensboro/Lake Oconee office of Atlanta Hearing Associates. The office can be reached at 706-623-4425.