Fall Proofing the Home and the Body for 'Staying Put'
Six out of every 10 falls happen at home where we spend much of our time, and where tend to move around without thinking about our safety. Falls are the #1 reason why older adults 65 years and older lose their independence (CDC). The National Institute on Aging (NIH) provides the following information on the many changes you can make to your home that will help you avoid falls and ensure your safety and allows you to Age in Place.
Even when you currently are not at an increased risk for falling, but have an increased risk for fracture when you have osteoporosis, then falls prevention should be part of a sound safety and wellness plan to help you stay independent.
In Stairways, Hallways, and Pathways
Have handrails on both sides of the stairs, and make sure they are tightly fastened. Hold the handrails when you use the stairs, going up or down. If you must carry something while you're on the stairs, hold it in one hand and use the handrail with the other. Don't let what you're carrying block your view of the steps.
Make sure there is good lighting with light switches at the top and bottom of stairs and on each end of a long hall. Remember to use the lights!
Keep areas where you walk tidy. Don't leave books, papers, clothes, and shoes on the floor or stairs.
Check that all carpets are fixed firmly to the floor so they won't slip. Put no-slip strips on tile and wooden floors. You can buy these strips at the hardware store.
Don't use throw rugs or small area rugs.
In Bathrooms and Powder Rooms
Mount grab bars near toilets and on both the inside and outside of your tub and shower.
Place non-skid mats, strips, or carpet on all surfaces that may get wet.
Remember to turn on night lights.
In Your Bedroom
Put night lights and light switches close to your bed.
Keep a flashlight by your bed in case the power is out and you need to get up.
Keep your telephone near your bed.
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 use a step stool, make sure it is steady and has a handrail on top. Have someone stand next to you.
Don't let your cat or dog trip you. Know where your pet is whenever you're standing or walking.
Keep emergency numbers in large print near each telephone.
If you have fallen, your doctor might suggest that an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or nurse visit your home. These healthcare providers can assess your home's safety and advise you about making changes to prevent falls.
Your Own Medical Alarm
If you’re concerned about falling, think about getting an emergency response system, especially for the Solo Ager. If you fall or need emergency help, you push a button on a special necklace or bracelet to alert 911. There is a fee for this service, and it is not usually covered by insurance.
Home Improvements can Prevent Falls
Many State and local governments have education and/or home modification programs to help older people prevent falls. Check with your local health department, or local Area Agency on Aging to see if there is a program near you.
The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence (FPCE), based at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, is dedicated to promoting aging in place and independent living for persons of all ages and abilities. It offers research, training, and technical assistance opportunities for professionals who wish to respond to the increasing demand for home modification services and address fall prevention in the home environment. FPCE also serves as an information clearinghouse on home modification to equip professionals and consumers with a comprehensive inventory of resources such as a National Directory of Home Modification and Repair Resources.
National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications
Don’t Stop Moving
The Aging in Place website has a comprehensive guide to falls prevention. Remaining physically active not only makes you less likely to fall, but it also improves your chance of catching yourself before a fall. Walking, water aerobics, and tai chi can reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. If your physical condition allows, activities like jogging, dancing, hiking, climbing stairs, and weight training can build bone strength and slow progression of osteoporosis.
As you grow older, it’s important to manage your fear of falling as well as your actual risk. That means assessing your likelihood of falls and consciously mapping out prevention strategies. When you want to age in place at home, a sound safety and wellness plan are great steps to a long, active future in your home.
Fall Proofing Your Body
The strongest independent risks associated with falls are physical weakness, gait and balance impairments, psychoactive medications, and previous falls. As you may imagine, dizziness and visual and cognitive impairment can play a role. Women and all adults over 80 are also more statistically prone to falling. Other factors include depression, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, polypharmacy arthritis, diabetes, and undertreated pain, and polypharmacy (simultaneously using multiple drugs to treat a single issue.)
At Fitness & Function we perform Pre-Exercise Screening to determine possible impairments, weaknesses, and risk factors, we carefully review our client's health and medical history, any recommendations made by the healthcare provider, most recent bone density scans to check fracture risk, and blood tests. Determining your fall risk is part of the development of a wellness plan to enhance your chances for a long, active future in your home.
During the initial assessment we also measure vital signs such as blood pressure for hypertension screening, and when the fall risk screen is positive we also perform a multi-sensory balance and mobility assessment. We finish up with a functional fitness assessment previously called the Senior Fitness Test.
We then develop a multicomponent physical activity and exercise program unique to the client, and schedule the personal training or private physical therapy sessions.
Fall Proofing Your Vacation Environment
Leisure time activities such as travel, family visits and vacation in other locations require seniors to pay attention to their environment. Play it safe no matter where your home away from home may be.