Sometimes trips and tumbles are unavoidable. But, for older adults, who are at increased risk for falling, it is important to take steps to protect themselves, especially at home.
“Falling is scary enough, but sometimes the resulting injuries end up affecting older adults’ independence and quality of life,” said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist. “The good news is most falls can be prevented.”
Given that May is Older Americans Month, it is a good time to focus on this topic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults 65 and older. Furthermore, 20 percent to 30 percent of those who fall sustain moderate injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures or head trauma.
Balance and gait, vision, medications and chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis can contribute to older adults falling. So, too, can the home environment, said Diana Romano, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for the Oklahoma County OSU Cooperative Extension Service and a Registered Dietitian.
“Common hazards around your house could include items on the floor, poor lighting, loose rugs and less-than-sturdy furniture,” Romano stated.
The first step to ensuring your home is as safe as possible from falling hazards is to do a simple walkthrough identifying potential problem areas.
For guidance on how to conduct an assessment, review the CDC’s “Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults at www.cdc.gov/injury. (Click on “Home and Recreational Safety, select “Falls – Older Adults” and choose “Publications and Resources.”) The publication is available in English, Spanish and Chinese.
Meanwhile, try to be objective about your clutter.
“Clearing out the clutter can be fun, but also emotional,” Romano commented. “If you don’t want to tackle the project alone, make it a group project by inviting friends and family to help.”
Make sure there is enough room to move around your furniture and for assistive devices such as wheelchairs to easily navigate. There should be at least 32 inches of clearance between pieces of furniture. Leave 18 inches between the coffee table, if there is one, and the couch or other furniture to allow people to comfortably move through the space.
Installing proper lighting will go a long way to ensuring older adults can comfortably move throughout their homes and enjoy everyday tasks such as reading. Shadows can be as much of a falling hazard as low or no light.
“You can put nightlights in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways, and consider keeping flashlights in easy-to-find places in case the power goes out,” said Romano.
Finally, do not forget to install secure rails along both sides of staircases and put in grab bars in the tub or shower and near the toilet, said Peek.
“There are lots of easy and inexpensive ways to make the home safer for older adults,” she said. “Taking the time for simple tasks like screwing in a light bulb or tightening a bolt on a stairway railing can help reduce the risk of injury.”
FOR MORE information about preventing falls in older adults, contact the OSU Extension Center at 713-1125 or visit the OSU Extension website at http://oces.okstate.edu/oklahoma.