Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz had it right -- there is no place like home. And whether you have been in your home for 50 years and raised a family there or have recently downsized to a smaller space, most seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible.
Unfortunately, as people age, they’re faced with greater risks of falling, which can make living in their home more dangerous. In order to enjoy the comforts, familiarity, and memories of your home, there are some easy modifications you can make to your lifestyle and your space that result in a safer living environment.
An Ounce of Fall Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
There are several easy steps you can take to lower your risk of falling inside your home. Falling is the leading cause of injuries for those 65 and over.
For those who are aging, the aftermath of falling can set a chain of events in motion from which it can be difficult to recover. For people who are 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injuries and result in 3 million emergency room visits a year, according to the CDC.
The sheer volume of falls per year illuminates the need for each senior or family member of a senior to take a closer look at their surroundings in order to implement preventative measures against falling. The good news is that there are multiple steps you can take to make yourself safer and more likely to stay on your feet, and these tips do not involve major costly renovations to your home.
Talk to Your Doctor
Tell your doctor your entire medical history so that you can work together to find an action plan for staying in your home that is right for you.
The first step on your journey to home safety is talking with your doctor. There are many health conditions that can exacerbate falls, such as problems with your eyes or equilibrium and long-term health concerns. Your use of medications, history of falling, and medical conditions should all be discussed, as well as helpful ideas to avoid hazards.
Many people hide falls from their doctors because they fear the repercussions, but if you are honest with your doctor, you can learn important information that will help you stay safely on your feet.
Do Simple Things That Get Big Results
Use it or Lose it
The old saying is true -- the more you use and maintain your body, the stronger and more likely to avoid falling you’ll become. And you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to be healthy, either. Walking strengthens your cardiovascular system, as well as your bones. And a few short walks a day can do as much good as one longer walk.
You can also do stretching and gentle sports like Tai Chi to keep your body limber and strong. The more strength and agility you have, the less likely you are to fall.
Exercise with walks, simple stretching, or Tai Chi in order to maintain strength and balance as you age.
Avoid a Wardrobe Malfunction
There are several ways that what you wear can result in making your home more dangerous. Although you may want the soft feel of socks in the comfort of your own home, if you wear shoes, you will be stronger on your feet. Socks can lead to slips and trips, while shoes help you keep your balance.
Additionally, avoid loose-fitting clothing, which can snag on furniture, causing you to lose your balance. By wearing shoes and appropriately-fitting clothing, you can effectively mitigate some falling risks.
Dress for success by avoiding loose-fitting clothing that could get caught on furniture and cause you to fall.
Removing clutter is an important step toward preventing falls. Particularly if you’ve lived in your home a long time, you have likely accumulated lots of furniture and even piles of books, magazines, and other belongings. Now would be a good time to get organized and sell or donate extraneous furniture like coffee tables or extra chairs that could cause you to trip.
Consider removing or repositioning furniture (like the coffee table pictured) to provide yourself with unobstructed walking paths around your home.
For seniors and soon-to-be seniors, even area rugs can be considered clutter and should be removed. These are tripping hazards that can cause you to tumble, especially if they are in hallways or tight spaces.
Remove throw rugs in the kitchen to eliminate the risk of tripping and dropping hot food.
No rugs lie perfectly flat, so it's easy to snag a corner with the tip of a shoe or a cane and trip as a result.
Light up Your Surroundings
Adding extra lighting and handrails will help keep you safe as you walk up and down stairs.
Lighting plays an integral role in keeping you on your feet. Make sure that lighting in hallways and stairwells is bright enough to accommodate the worsening eyesight that often comes with age.
Lighting your porch and staircase area will make it easier for you to move inside and outside of your house without incident.
Consider glow-in-the-dark switches, as well, so you can easily turn the lights on and off. And, as for lamp cords, make sure they are tucked away so as not to become a tripping hazard.
Buoy the Bathroom
Many falls take place in the bathroom, but there are a few simple ways to ensure your bathroom remains a safe place. As people age, they get a bit less steady on their feet, and tasks that were once simple can become more difficult. People also often spend longer periods of time in the bathroom as they age.
Grab bars and shower seats are easy additions that provide you with the ability to safely enjoy a refreshing shower.
Having a grab bar in place offers support if you lose your balance, making it less likely that you fall or suffer an injury. Consider adding the following safety features to your bathroom:
- Grab bars near your toilet and tub
- A no-entry shower so you don’t have to step over a lip
- Non-slip bath strips
- A sturdy, no-slip bath mat
- A raised toilet seat
Consider installing a no-entry or curbless shower, so you don't have to step into or down from slippery tile.
Catch Yourself in the Kitchen
Since people spend so much time in the kitchen, often with hot food in their hands or the oven on, taking extra care to ensure your safety is important. Keep the items you use the most and that are heaviest at waist-level to avoid a lot of bending or climbing that could cause you to lose your balance or sustain an injury.
Make sure that your drawer handles are secure so that you can get what you need without the danger of being thrown off balance.
Brace the Bedroom
In the bedroom, safety issues generally revolve around both the bed and having a clear walking path to the bathroom. Make sure that there is no clutter between your bed and the bathroom, especially for late-night visits. This is also an important place to consider lighting, as you will undoubtedly need a night light. Keep necessities like tissues and water within easy reach on a bedside table in order to cut down on risks surrounding drowsy late-night walking.
Keep a phone by your bedside in case of an emergency, and leave a clear path for walking around the room.
Stairs, Walkways, and Entrance Ways
Once your home is secure, consider updating your points of entry. Adding a handrail to the entrance to your home, especially if there are steps, can help you keep your balance and relieve pain in your knees or ankles. Fixing cracks in the sidewalks and keeping the area well-lit will keep you safer when leaving or arriving in the dark.
Make sure the entrance to your home has a handrail so that you can enter safely, especially if there are stairs to climb.
Cherish Your Home
For many older Americans, happiness is tied to the experiences and memories they have made in their homes, and being able to stay in a place that makes them comfortable and happy should be a priority. People do tend to slow down as they age, but by taking precautions and updating their homes appropriately, seniors can enjoy the comforts of home while still remaining safe from hazards.
It doesn’t take the brains the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz was searching for to recognize that aging people are always most happy in their own homes. And with a few adjustments to their lifestyle and simple renovations to their homes, seniors can enjoy a safe, happy environment for years to come. Turn up the lights, toss out the throw rugs, and add a few safety rails, and your home can remain where your heart is for years to come.