Simple Improvements Can Make Home a Safer Place

By Lisa M. Petsche

Some Tips to Avoid a Potentially Serious Spill

Falls are the primary cause of injury and hospitalization for older adults, and half of those injured do not regain their former level of independence. Even more sobering, falls are the seventh leading cause of death in people aged 65-plus.

The majority of falls by seniors take place at home while they are carrying out everyday activities. Most often they occur in the bathroom, bedroom or a stairwell.

Health- and age-related changes that contribute to falls include arthritis, decreased sensation in the feet (known as peripheral neuropathy), loss of strength, visual impairment, balance problems and the use of certain medications.

The other major cause of falls is hazardous conditions in the home environment. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to reduce these hazards for yourself or a loved one. Many of them involve little or no cost.

In the Kitchen
  • Keep regularly used pots, dishes, staple foods and other supplies within easy reach. Ensure the heaviest items are stored in the lower cupboards.
  • If you must reach high places, get a step stool that has a high handrail and rubber tips. Never use a chair.
In the Bedroom
  • Situate a lamp within easy reach of your bed. Also keep a flashlight on hand in case there’s a power failure (don’t forget to regularly replace the batteries).
  • Keep a phone at your bedside. If your bedroom doesn’t have a phone jack, get a cordless phone and keep the receiver with you at night. (Don’t forget to place it back on the base in the morning, so it can recharge during the day.)
  • Ensure there’s a clear path from your bed to the bathroom.
In the Bathroom
  • Have grab bars installed by the toilet and in the bathtub or shower area. Ensure they’re placed in the proper location and well anchored to the wall.
  • Use a rubber mat (the kind with suction cups) in the tub or shower, and a non-skid bath mat on the floor.
  • Get a bathtub seat or shower chair.
  • Obtain a raised toilet seat if you have trouble getting on and off the toilet.
  • Get a hand-held shower head so you can shower sitting down.
Stairwells
  • Steps should be in good repair and have a non-skid surface.
  • Have solid handrails installed on both sides of stairways – ideally these should project past the top and bottom steps.
  • Keep steps free of clutter.
  • Ensure stairwells are well lit. (If necessary, get battery-powered dome lights that easily attach to the wall.)
General Tips
  • Wear slippers or shoes that fit snugly, offer good support and have a non-skid sole (avoid a sticky sole like crepe, though).
  • Ensure throw rugs and scatter mats have a non-skid backing. Better yet, remove them, since they’re one of the most common causes of falls.
  • Keep walkways clear of electrical and telephone cords.
  • Avoid clutter in rooms and hallways.
  • Post emergency numbers by the telephone for easy access. If vision is a problem, get a phone with a large, lighted keypad.
  • Sign on with a personal emergency response service, whereby you wear a lightweight, waterproof pendant or bracelet that has a button to press if you run into a crisis and need help. (Studies have found that getting help quickly after a fall reduces the risk of hospitalization and death.)
  • Use night-lights in the bedroom, hallways and bathroom. Get the kind that have a built-in sensor that automatically turns the light on in dim conditions. Also consider getting one or more plug-in, rechargeable flashlights that automatically come on when the power goes out.
  • Spend some time browsing in medical supply stores or perusing their catalogs to discover the many items available – for example, reachers and electric-lift armchairs – that can increase household safety and make everyday activities easier.
  • Consider a cane or walker if balance is an ongoing problem. Make sure you are fitted with the appropriate type of aid and receive instruction on proper usage.
  • Arrange for a home assessment by an occupational therapist if you would like more information about identifying potential safety hazards and successfully addressing them. The therapist may point out areas of risk and make recommendations that would not have occurred to you or your family.

Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.

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