It may be startling to know that one in four Americans aged 65 or older falls each year. In fact, according to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in this age group. As many retired and elderly people spend more time in their house, preventing falls at home are an important part of health and well-being.
The good news is that there are many ways we can minimize the risk of falling in our retirement years, such as eating right, managing our medications, and improving our balance through exercise and physical therapy.
One fall safety tip is to make simple changes in the place we spend most of our time – at home. This may allow us to stay in our homes for as long as possible into our retirement years.
Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) has teamed up with the Arizona Falls Prevention Coalition, Northern Chapter to produce a fall prevention program centering around a video series to raise awareness and offer helpful tips to prevent falling. Their latest production is called Expert Tips for Preventing Falls in Your Home.
In the video, we visit several model homes at Touchmark at the Ranch, a full-service retirement community located in Prescott Arizona. YRMC occupational therapists Valerie Williams and Andrew Strmic take us on a tour of the homes and point out important, and often easy ways we can go about preventing falls at home and make all our homes safer.
“Occupational Therapists ensure that people recovering from illness or injury can function in all of their environments with the abilities they have,” says Williams. “We work with the individual patient’s abilities to help them function as independently and safely as possible.”
This includes adapting a patient’s home to suit their needs. However, a little preventive adaptation can go a long way to keep us from injury in the first place.
“It’s mainly a combination of common sense and an awareness of your surroundings,” says Williams.
The Living Room
In the living room, Williams suggests looking objectively at the layout of your furniture. If you have a ‘travel corridor’ that you usually take to get from one room to another, she recommends rearranging your furniture if needed to make sure the path is clear.
The same goes for clutter. Move piles of magazines and newspapers, tuck electrical cords out of the way and apply two-sided rug tape to the edges of loose rugs.
Strmic says that improving your lighting is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent falls in your home, particularly in hallways and stairs, as they tend to be dark. “I typically recommend a 100-watt bulb or higher. Often, a 60-watt bulb just isn’t enough,” he says.
Nightlights and glow-in-the-dark light switches are also helpful.
“Sturdy handrails on your stairs are one of the most important features to have in your home,” says Strmic. “If possible, install handrails on both sides of your stairs, and make sure they allow continuous holding without any obstacles. Ideally, you’ll want to have the handrail extend beyond the top and bottom stair, and of course, good lighting is very important.”
Strmic recommends that you ask an expert to check your handrails. Have them install new ones if needed.
Non-skid decals applied to the tub or shower floor are one of the easiest ways to help keep from slipping while bathing.
Grab bars are useful in the shower and tub, as well as by the toilet. Make sure they are:
- Of good quality
- Properly installed
- At least 1¼ inch in diameter
- Checked by an expert
Strmic also suggests using a plastic, non-slip bath seat as well as an elevated toilet seat if additional stability is needed.
Williams says that storing often-used items within easy reach will go a long way to help you keep your footing. However, if something is out of reach, she recommends only using a sturdy step stool or ladder with a handrail.
Similar to the living room, Williams suggests identifying the ‘travel corridor’ in your kitchen. Make sure that items such as the waste can and the dog food and water bowls are out of the way. She also recommends cleaning up spills immediately, especially on the floor.
Strmic and Williams offer these additional tips when you’re at home:
- Make sure your shoes or slippers fit well
- Avoid slippery socks or stockings
- Know where your pet is at all times
- Be aware of your oxygen tubing
- Sit and stand slowly
- Before sitting, feel the chair on the backs of your legs
- Keep your phone nearby
- Keep a clear path between your bed and bathroom
- Use night lights
- Use bright or glow-in-the-dark tape on steps
There are many local and national resources for additional information on preventing falls, including:
- The Physical Rehabilitation Department at YRMC, which keeps an updated list of resources such as local contractors, stores and vendors as well as home safety checklists. In Prescott, call (928) 771-5131, and in Prescott Valley, call (928) 759-5940.
- Click here for a free, downloadable ‘Home Fit Guide’ from AARP. It contains tips for keeping your home safe and comfortable.
- Visit the Arizona Falls Prevention Coalition website at www.azstopfalls.org, where you can find information on statewide events, articles, fact sheets and more.
As demonstrated by Williams and Strmic in the new Preventing Falls in Your Home video, a few basic changes now may be the key to staying in your home for as long as possible into the future. If you have any concerns that you might be at risk for falling, be sure to talk with your doctor.
The Falls Prevention video series produced by Yavapai Regional Medical Center is one of the many ways YRMC provides outreach and education to members of our community. YRMC is happy to partner with organizations like The Arizona Falls Prevention Coalition, Northern Chapter to help keep our neighbors informed, safe and well.
Click on the links below to view the other articles and videos in the series: