September is Fall Prevention Month; Easy Steps to Fall-Proof Your Home
Submitted by Dawn Quaderer
Community Health Charge RN
LCO Health Center
It feels like the pandemic has changed everything about our lives, but one thing remains constant: the risk of falls in older adults. More than 75% of falls take place inside or in close proximity to the home. Some simple changes will help reduce your risk of falling. Review the steps below to get started fall-proofing your home.
• Check your front steps. Try to fix damage, such as cracks or wobbly steps, as soon as possible. Make sure all entryways are well lit so you can see where you are stepping. It’s best if you can have motion sensor lights, so you don’t have to worry about turning lights on yourself. Plus, they can save you money on energy costs. Consider installing a grab bar. Putting grab bars on one side of your door can provide balance while you’re putting the key in the door, or stepping up once you have the door open, especially if you are carrying bags or the steps are slick.
•Kitchen. Move your most commonly used items within reach. Put the kitchen items you use every day—like plates, glasses, or even seasonings—on the lowest shelves. This will help you avoid using stepstools and chairs. Plan ahead for special needs by asking a loved one or visitor for help every few months or so to rotate seasonal items to within reach—for example, baking dishes that are only used at holiday time. Replace scatter rugs with rubber backed rugs. If you prefer to have a mat on the floor near the sink or stove, make sure it is placed securely on the floor and doesn’t have turned corners or edges that you could trip on. The best rugs have heavy-backed rubber bottoms so they stay in place. Clean up spills immediately. Kitchen floors can be slippery and very dangerous when wet! Keep a hand towel within easy reach to help you clean up spills easily and quickly.
•Hallways. Check your lighting, but don’t change the bulbs yourself. Good lighting is key in all areas of the home, but don’t get a chair or stepladder to change out-of-reach high bulbs. Ask your family members or friends to do this and consider LED bulbs to help reduce the number of times you have to change your bulbs. LEDs last longer and can save you money in the long run.
•Stairs. Keep steps clutter-free. Keep a clear path by making sure things like shoes and books are put away and not left sitting on steps. Adding colored tape to the edges of each step will help visualize steps that blend together. Pick a color of tape that will stand out against the color of the stairs. Make sure to put the tape on the top and over the edge of each step. A light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs keeps you prepared no matter which direction you’re going. Use them. Add a second handrail. Most staircases only have one rail, but handrails on both sides will help keep you balanced. It’s important to make sure they are both installed securely so that they will support you.
•Bedroom. Make sure the light near the bed is easy to reach. If you have to get up in the night, you know you’re just a click away from better visibility. Keep a flashlight by your bed in case the power is out and you need to get up. Keep the path from your bed to the bathroom clear. Make sure it is well-lit and clutter free. Place night lights along the route, so you can see where you’re walking. Some night lights have sensors and go on by themselves after dark or in response to motion. Consider installing a bed rail. There are railings that fit easily between your mattress and box spring and can provide support when you are getting in and out of bed. The bed rail is also good for times when you go from lying/sitting/standing, and the change of position makes you dizzy. Having something to hold onto will keep you steady while your body adjusts. Move the phone within arm’s reach of your bed. You might need help in the middle of the night, so having a phone nearby is a safe option.
•Pets. Don’t let your cat or dog trip you. Know where your pet is whenever you’re standing or walking. Be sure to put your pet’s food and water bowls out of your walking path and if water or food spills over, clean it up right away. Keep leashes on a hook by the door.
•Bathrooms. Add a non-slip rubber mat to the shower or tub. The traction of the mat or rubber self-stick strips will help keep you from slipping when stepping on wet surfaces. Install grab bars by the toilet and tub. Having properly installed grab bars around the toilet and tub provide needed support and balance. Remember, towel racks aren’t grab bars, but grab bars can be towel racks. Grab bars should be installed by a professional to make sure they are at the correct levels and properly anchored to the walls. Check with your local county or tribal aging unit or Aging & Disability Resource Center for a list of handymen who can help with installation. Consider a shower chair and a hand-held shower head. These can help you avoid reaching or straining during your shower.
• In Other Living Areas. Keep electric cords and telephone wires near walls and away from walking paths. Secure all carpets and large area rugs firmly to the floor. Arrange your furniture (especially low coffee tables) and other objects so they are not in your way when you walk. Make sure your sofas and chairs are the right height for you to get in and out of them easily. Don't walk on newly washed floors—they are slippery. Keep items you use often within easy reach. Don't stand on a chair or table to reach something that's too high—use a "reach stick" instead or ask for help. Reach sticks are special grabbing tools that you can buy at many hardware or medical-supply stores. If you have to use a step stool, make sure it is steady and has a handrail on top.
And two last tips: Keep in mind that you always want three points of contact no matter what you are doing. For example, if you are walking up steps or maneuvering in and out of your shower, you want to have two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand in contact with something sturdy. If you do not own your home, talk with your landlord about making these changes. They will often work with you to get accommodations in place. Don’t assume just because you are renting that you can’t make the necessary changes you need to stay falls free.
If you would like help to assess your home environment to identify hazards and suggest ways to improve the fit between your home and your activities to keep you safer, call the LCO Health Center at 715-638-5100 to set up a time for the Home Health Nurse to come to your home. It is easier to prevent falls than to heal from a fall, so challenge yourself to use your COVID time to make some changes now that will help prevent a fall in your home in the future. Stay Safe!