Mrs. Wilson has been taking care of her husband since he got a stroke last year. Last week, while heading down the basement for laundry, Mrs. Wilson missed a step, fell down, and broke her left arm. After discharge from a hospital, she has to stay at a rehabilitation center for three months and can’t take care of Mr. Wilson. Their closest son, living in North Carolina, came home last week but has to leave in two days due to his day job. Unfortunately, situations like what Mrs. Wilson has experienced are not rare. There are relatively simple things we can do to prevent falls at home among older adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of elderly age 65 or older fall every year. Think about this for a second. As of 2019, there are about 54 million adults age 65 and older in the U.S., and one-third of them, or 18 million had a fall in the last year. In addition, 60% of falls occur at their homes, i.e., 11 million falls, and some individuals have two or more falls in a year. This is a large number of falls that may lead to injuries, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, disabilities, or loss of independence.
The good news is that falls are not inevitable among older adults simply due to aging. That is, they are preventable. The CDC has summarized decades of research on fall prevention, showing that interventions have been proved effective, including physical exercise, clinical measures (e.g., Vitamin D and calcium supplements, medication reconciliation, eye care, and podiatry care), and home modifications. Home modifications have been demonstrated to be associated with a reduction in fall rates of 20% to 60%. In this article, we focus on home modifications and will summarize other interventions in future posts.
Below are the 5 relatively simple things that we can do to improve home safety to prevent falls.
As we age, our vision is not as good as it used to be. Good lighting is therefore important. Check your lighting at the door entrance, hallway, and stairs. You can install night lights, motion sensor lights, or photo sensor lights along pathways to provide orientation at night, especially the pathway from your bedroom to the bathroom that you may use during nighttime. Make sure there is good lighting at both the top and bottom of your stairs, ideally with a light switch at both ends too.
Most of us tend to put things in different places. The key is to ensure a clear walking path. For example, remove books, papers, clothes, or shoes from stairs, re-arrange furniture (e.g., a coffee table) to ensure a clear pathway, keep electric cords and phone wires out from under carpeting and clear of walkways, and remove non-skid resistant scatter rugs. If you have pets, know where they are before you start to move; you don’t want to trip over your pets.
We may trip over scatter rugs or areas rugs. There are two things that we pay attention to. One is to remove all non-skid-resistant ones and replace them with skid-resistant rugs, e.g., those with a rubber bottom. The second is to ensure these rugs don’t have turned corners or edges, which could be the reason we trip.
As we age, we are not as nimble as we used to be. Installing assisting tools will help us balance, especially when we are in the bathroom or climbing up or down the stairs.
Ensuring easy access to things that you use often can avoid reaching or using step stools and chairs that may increase the risk of falling.
Finally, ask for help when falling is a risk. Don’t install a ceiling light bulb yourself because you may need to use a ladder or a chair. Ask your family members, neighbors, or friends to help. If you need to use kitchen items stored on higher shelves, plan and get someone to help you get those items before you need them.
Keep emergency numbers in large print near each telephone just in case you need them. If you are worried about falling and you live alone, you may consider an emergency response system. Typically, you are offered a special necklace or bracelet that triggers an alert to the service provider, and you can push a button and talk to an operator. You may learn more about such systems here. Often there is a monthly fee of $25 to $50, which is generally not covered by insurance.
Feel free to reach out to us for a free home safety assessment. TeamCarer provides non-medical home care in the metro west area of Boston, Massachusetts, including Brookline, Newton, Wellesley, and Needham. You can call us at 888-895-7020 extension 1 or send us a message here.