It happens to all of us – as we get older, our eyesight and hearing aren't as good as they once were, and our balance and reflexes start to let us down. We start taking medications to treat what ails us, but that may cause dizziness or lightheadedness. That can often lead to a fall, especially if there are tripping hazards in the home.
Many of these falls can be prevented. If you have any physical problems, talk to your doctor to make sure your medication isn't making you lightheaded. Have your hearing and vision checked regularly. Make sure any problems with your feet (bunions, calluses) are dealt with. If you do have problems walking, use a cane or a walker – there's no shame in getting a little help. Make sure your walker or cane has rubber tips and is correctly sized to your height.
Shoes and boots should have good soles and provide good support. You are more likely to fall if wearing slippers than if you have shoes on. Don't walk about the house in your stocking feet. If your shoes have laces, tie them up. Don't wear clothes that drag on the floor, such as a long bathrobe.
In the home, there are many ways to ensure your safety as well as that of visitors and the other members of your family.
Start by getting rid of any obvious tripping hazards, like clutter in hallways and on stairs. If there are any loose wires or cords that extend across walking areas, find a way to move them out of the way. Scatter rugs are very dangerous – use only non-slip mats. The route from your bedroom to the bathroom, in particular, should be clear of any obstacles. Have a night light or switch on an overhead light, rather than making this walk in the dark.
In the bathroom, at least two grab bars should be installed to help you stand and sit and get in and out of the bathtub. Consider buying a bath seat so you can have your shower sitting down. There should be a rubber mat along the full length in the tub (install it when the tub is dry), and a non-skid bath mat beside the tub.
In the kitchen, store heavy objects in the lower cupboards. The most-used kitchen items should be stored in the most easy-to-access places. When you must reach a high cupboard, use a strong, stable step stool that has a handrail.
Stairs present the largest threat for tripping. It's best to avoid distracting patterns on the stair treads because that makes it hard to determine where the edges of the stairs are. If you can't see the edges clearly, paint a stripe on the edges in a contrasting colour. Make sure the stairs are well-lit and that there are light switches at both the top and the bottom of the staircase.
Some older houses have basement stairs that are a serious hazard because they are not a uniform height or width. Consider having these steps replaced. Winding or spiral staircases should have handrails on both sides. Handrails are a must on all types of stairs.
Floor coverings on stairs should be thin and fixed tightly to the stairs to provide maximum tread space. Don't install soft treads with a large rounded edge.
If you have stairs that sometimes get wet, they should have a slip-resistant, rough finish. Outdoor steps must be maintained to ensure there are no loose or broken treads. Use sand and salt in the winter months. Make sure they are kept free of snow, ice and leaves. Make sure the steps have adequate outdoor lighting and that there are well-maintained handrails.
As the population ages, many more seniors are moving in with their children and grandchildren, and it's important that everyone in the family remembers to keep the house clear of obstacles. Pick up after yourself and don't leave things on the floor in unexpected places.
For many seniors, avoiding falls is often a matter of being patient and knowing when to ask for help. Don't carry things up and down the stairs, or climb on a chair to reach to high places. Wait until there's someone who can help you.
Don't run to the telephone or door if the bell rings – whoever it is will wait for you. If you have a pet, be aware of where it is so you're not likely to trip over it.
Take your time on the stairs, turn on the lights and use the handrails. Use your walker or your cane. Hire someone to help with housework or yard work if you feel shaky when doing it. If you can't afford to pay someone, get in touch with your local community services agency to see what assistance is available.
Studies say that more than a third of older adults fall every year, and that 10 to 20 per cent of these falls cause serious head injuries or fractures. More than 12,900 seniors in the U.S. died in 2002 as a result of falls.
Using common sense in your daily routine and making sure your home is safe will help your odds of staying safe from falls.