We’ve all done it once or twice in our lifetime. We wake up in the middle of the night and need to get a drink or go to the bathroom. We stumble out of bed, walk down the hall, and immediately trip over the cat. You both end up on the floor in a heap. The cat is probably fine, but if you are over 65, you may not be.
Every second, every day, an American adult aged 65 or over suffers a fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury and death caused by injury for older adults. This number will increase as our population grows older. Death rates from falls have already increased about 30% in the last decade.
When you think about it, it makes sense that six out of every 10 falls happen at home because that is where we are most comfortable and usually move around without worrying about safety. The good news is that because of that, falls are entirely preventable. We recently published a blog with ideas to help you improve your balance and strength in your everyday routine.
Another way to reduce the risk of falls is to make modifications to your home. These modifications alter the environment of your home to make your daily activities easier, reduce accidents, and support independent living as you age. Some of these changes can be simple and easy, and some may require significant construction. Let’s look at a combination of both.
These high-trafficked areas can be fall hazards when cluttered or have uneven transitional fixtures. Here are some alterations to consider:
- Install handrails on both sides of a set of stairs, no matter the size. You can just as easily get hurt falling down a short set of stairs as falling down a flight of stairs.
- Add a strip of bright tape or paint on the edge of each step to make them more visible.
- Affix anti-slip treads to steps.
- Install bright lighting with light switches at the top and bottom of stairs and on each end of a long hall.
- Add highly visible edging or transitional tape on thresholds and doorways. Make the thresholds as even as possible.
- Keep hallways free of coat racks, tables, benches, and clutter.
- Don’t leave bags, clothes, books, or shoes on the floor or stairs.
- Install automatic doors that open and close on their own.
Here are some easy ways to reduce the risks of slippery or uneven floors.
- Use low-pile carpet and skid-proof tile.
- Ensure that all carpets adhere firmly to the floor.
- Check for tears, rips, bubbles, or uneven edges in carpets.
- Affix anti-strip treads or tape on tile and wooden floors.
- Avoid using floor polish or wax.
Falls aren’t always about losing your balance. Sometimes it’s tripping over something you can’t see (like the cat). Lighting can help.
- Replace light bulbs regularly.
- Use nightlights or motion sensor lights in hallways, bathrooms, front doors, and outside areas like porches and garages.
- Install overhead lighting and extra light switches in every room.
- Install overhead lighting in every closet.
A study by the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention found that the bathroom was the most common location for fall injuries in the home. Here are some bathroom modifications to reduce your risk:
- Mount grab bars on both sides of the toilet and inside and outside the tub/shower.
- Place a removable shower chair or install a bench in the tub/shower so you can sit while bathing.
- Install a step-in or roll-in tub. These tubs have a low threshold, stable seating, and permanent grab bars.
- Use a portable, hand-held shower head.
- Install a bath caddy that stores toiletries at eye or shoulder level, so you don’t have to reach too far in the shower.
- Install a raised toilet seat or a comfort-height toilet, so you don’t have to raise and lower yourself as much when using it.
- Make sure the medicine cabinet is easy to access without reaching too far.
- Store frequently used items like toothpaste and toothbrushes at eye level.
Minimizing your fall risk in the kitchen is more about getting organized than modifying the layout, but there are some structural changes you can make as well. Here are some ideas for both.
- Store frequently used items like dishes and cooking equipment at eye level and within easy reach.
- Keep cabinets and refrigerators organized so you do not have to rummage through them needlessly.
- Keep brooms, mops, towels, and other cleaning supplies within easy reach and clean up spills immediately.
- Keep a sturdy step stool with a handrail or a reach stick if you need to access something above your head.
- Have a stool or chair in the kitchen to rest when needed.
- Lower cabinet shelves and counters so you can access them while seated.
- Use sliding pads under counter-top kitchen appliances to easily slide them forward from the back of the counter when needed.
The risk of falling in your bedroom increases at night, so lighting is critical. But you can make some other simple modifications to reduce your risk.
- Install light switches within reach of your bed.
- In case of power outages, keep a flashlight near your bed.
- Keep a telephone near your bed.
- Make sure your bed is not too tall or too short. Ensure that you can easily get into and out of bed without overly exerting yourself. It is the correct height if you can back up to the bed and sit and stand easily.
- Lower your closet rods so that hanging items are at eye or shoulder level.
- Move clothes and other items you wear daily to the top drawers of your dresser, so you don’t have to bend over to retrieve them.
- Move items you don’t use off the floor of your closet, so they are not in the way.
Here are some easy modifications you should make in every room.
- Run all cords and wires along the walls, away from the center of the room, and out of walking paths.
- Don’t use rugs or mats unless they are affixed to the floor with non-skid tape.
- Arrange furniture and other objects, so they are not in your way when you walk.
- Ensure all seating is the right height to get in and out safely.
- Remove all clutter from every room, especially items on the floor.
- Keep items you often use within easy reach, ideally eye or shoulder height.
- Keep your pets in their own sleeping area at night. Know where your pet is during the day whenever you walk around the house.
If you are wondering how to get started, the Center for Disease Control offers a handy checklist to assess your home for fall hazards. There are also state and local organizations that can help you fund home modifications. Here’s a website with some links to those organizations.
While falls may be a fact of life for all of us prone to clumsiness, they can be devastating for seniors who are more at risk of injury and even death from a fall. Home modifications are one way to minimize that risk.
For seniors looking for other ways to reduce the risk of falls, our partner Nymbl is an outstanding resource. Nymbl was founded by Dr. JP Farcy, a doctor with a vision to transform balance training through personalized “dual-tasking.” Almost 1 million Nymbl users are improving their balance and reducing their fall risk in the comfort and safety of their homes, all through their smartphones or tablets. This program is completely free to residents of Colorado aged 60 and older.