There are many factors that play a role when someone experiences a fall. This article will review some of the things that you can do to play a proactive role in reducing some of these factors that may cause you, a family member or friend to experience a fall.
1. Make home environment a safe place
Remove tripping hazards. Get rid of loose or thick pile rugs that can cause your toe to catch on an edge or slip out from under your feet. If you do have small rugs, place non-slip, rubber matting under rugs. Make sure carpet is in good repair, especially in high traffic areas. Avoid placing extension cords on the ground or place a cover over them to avoid tripping. Decrease the amount of clutter in your home. This is usually a result of moving from a larger home to a smaller home.
Improve the lighting around your home. As we age, we rely more on our eyesight to maintain our balance and having a well lit home will decrease the risk for falling. Be sure to place light switches where they are easy to reach in every room.
Add grab bars/railing. Add grab bars in the bathroom around the toilet and inside and outside of the shower. Add stair railing going into/out of the home and on any stairs within the home to provide greater support when performing stair tasks.
Equip showers with temperature-regulating valves. Keeping water at consistent temperature while bathing, even when someone may be using water in other places in the home, will decrease risk of bather becoming startled with temperature change and slipping and falling in shower.
Avoid highly polished floors and wet surfaces. Place nonskid mats in showers and tubs and on the bathroom floor. Place nonskid/rubber mat around the sink area in the kitchen. Avoiding wet surfaces will particularly be important during the winter months where ice and snow may play a roll. Have a plan in place to help remove ice and snow from walkways outside of home.
Avoid irregular ground surfaces such as cracked concrete or grass until you feel more confident on your feet.
Plan storage shelves in kitchen, bedrooms and other storage closets or rooms appropriately to avoid overreaching for stored items. In particular, make sure frequently used items are within easy to reach areas. Have a step stool that is stable and in good repair to avoid falls from an elevated surface.
2. Transfers and moving about environment
Transfers. Take time when moving in and out of beds and chairs. Unstable or rolling chairs can become a risk factor as well as low and overly soft beds and chairs, making it more difficult to transfer from. Have chairs that are equipped with armrests and back rests to assist with transfer. Place something sturdy to hold on to next to the bed such as a grab bar, three-pronged cane or walker for support. Install an elevated toilet seat for greater ease in transferring to toilet.
Stairs. Always turn on the stairwell light prior to ascending or descending stairs. Go up with the stronger leg first, bring weaker leg up to same step and then cane if you use one. Going downstairs, go down with weaker leg first, then the strong leg to the same step and then cane if you use one. Use same sequence when getting on or off a bus if applicable.
3. It is okay to be assertive.
Do not be afraid to ask for assistance. Ask family members and friends to assist reaching objects that are difficult to reach. Ask for help when walking outside after a snowstorm or to run errands in inclement weather. Create a system with your neighbor that lets them know you are okay each day so they know if you are up and doing well.
4. Other tips and tricks
Exercise regularly. Focus on increasing leg strength and balance and progressively increase the intensity of exercises over time. A good example of appropriate exercise program is Tai Chi.
Talk to doctor or pharmacist about prescriptions and over the counter medicines that have possible side effects or interactions such as dizziness or drowsiness. Be sure to keep all medicines in stored containers that they came in and are clearly marked. Taking wrong medications or missing a dose may cause physical problems that may lead to a fall. Keep medicines in an area that is well lit and have a magnifying glass nearby if needed.
Eye check up. See an eye doctor every year to update eyeglasses and consider a pair of single vision distance lenses for activities such as walking outside.
Install bathroom door locks that can be open from either side in case a fall were to occur in bathroom.
There are many ways that you can prevent a fall from occurring. As you make the necessary adjustments in your home and environment, you will be able to move more confidently and with less fear of falling. Falls can change your life and usually for the worse. Take these tips and tricks as a step forward in the right direction to decrease your fall risk today. There are many other tips and tricks that you can do to further decrease your risk. For more information stay tuned and reach out to your healthcare provider.
– Dr. Andrew Wankier
Aging, M. P. (1995). A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns about Falls. Portland, ME: Boston University.