“Don’t let aging get you down, it’s too hard to get back up!”
Did you know that most falls happen at home where you spend most of your time? We tend to think of our homes as sanctuaries, not somewhere associated with a risk to personal safety. Most people wake up in the morning, get out of bed and start their day without even thinking about falling. And as you navigate around furniture, reach for a coffee mug in the cupboard or head downstairs to the laundry room, you probably aren’t worried about losing your balance. But given the fact that one in three older adults aged 65+ will fall this year alone, it’s time to shine a light on your where you live and learn how to spot the risks!
Falls are the leading cause of injury hospitalization in Manitoba, accounting for $265 million in healthcare spending. A 2017 Government of Manitoba Report on falls also found that of those hospitalized, nearly 31 percent are later transferred to personal care homes. As we get older, age-related changes can affect our vision, balance and muscle strength, which can increase your risk of falling. However, falls don’t have to be a normal part of aging and making your home a safe place to live is a great place to start.
Fall proofing your home really begins with one easy step – take a minute to simply look around. What do you see? Are walkways free of clutter? Loose area rugs, floor mats, electrical cords, telephone cables, pet toys, and even shoes can pose a tripping hazard, increasing your risk of a serious fall. Pieces of furniture placed too close together can also impede your ability to get around, especially if you are using a mobility aid like a walker or cane. Make sure furniture is arranged so there’s enough room to easily walk around your home. If needed, you can always enlist a friend or family member to help re-arrange heavy objects. Carpet should also be firmly affixed to the floor as a curled or folded edge can also pose a tripping hazard.
Now let’s take a closer look at other areas in your home and discuss some preventative measures to reduce your risk of falling:
- Do you have a lamp next to your bed? If you need to get up and use the washroom at night, it’s important to have easy access to a light. A darkened room makes it harder to maneuver around furniture and can increase your risk of a serious fall.
- Do you use a mobility aide? If you have a walker, keep it within reach of the bed and make sure the break is on! Some people may experience dizziness when they stand up after lying down, so it’s important to position the walker close to the bed.
- Are frequently used items stored where they can be accessed with ease? Reaching on your tiptoes to the top shelf in the cupboard may cause you to lose your balance.
- Are you wearing shoes with non-slip soles when cooking dinner or doing the dishes? Most kitchen floors are either tiled or have linoleum, which can be hazardous if you’re wearing slippers with no rubber backing. According to a Chicago Tribune article entitled “Wear shoes in the house to avoid falls”, lounging around the house in slippers or socks is a risky proposition for seniors. The article cites a study from the Institute for Aging Research, which found that, “those who wore slippers, wore socks only, or went barefoot on a regular basis at home were far more likely to fall than people who kept their shoes on.” So keep those shoes on!
- An article on fall prevention in the “New Old Age” blog from the New York Times suggests that the bathroom may be the most dangerous room in your house. With slippery, hard surfaces and all that chrome, tile and porcelain, a fall in the bathroom can have serious consequences, “Bathroom falls are major bone-breakers, particularly for older women with osteoporosis.”
- To make the bathroom safer, the article recommends installing grab bars beside the toilet and a raised toilet seat to make it easier to get on and off the toilet. Other safety options include a handheld shower head and a bench seat, “For those who only have a tub shower, an inexpensive transfer bench will fit across the tub’s side so the user can sit and then slide over the edge instead of climbing over.” Any loose bathmats should also be removed in favour of a non-slip mat.
- If you’re concerned about a serious fall, you may also want to subscribe to a medical alert service like Victoria Lifeline. All their buttons are 100 percent waterproof and meant to be worn in a bath or shower. The service provides around the clock access to help and can add some much-needed peace of mind to your day to day living. Please Contact Us for more information.
Finally, if you're worried about your risk of falling, please talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional about other proactive things you can do to reduce your risk.
Krystal Stokes is the Communications & Public Relations Manager at Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Victoria General Hospital Foundation.