Imagine relaxing in your home on a dreary afternoon. The weather is not encouraging outdoor activities. There's nowhere to go and no one to see. Restless and bored, you shuffle through the house looking for a distraction. As you glance out the living room window, your foot steps onto the magazines that had cascaded off the cluttered coffee table and down you go. You reach out to break your fall, but twist and miss, landing hard on your hip and shoulder and hitting your head. Now, imagine the fear and agony of lying there in extreme pain, confused, dehydrated, cold, and hungry for three days before a family member finds you. The worst part? You were wearing a safety alert pendant the whole time. But, due to the injuries, you weren’t thinking clearly enough to press it. You and your family and friends are now haunted by “what if's”.
Scenarios like this play out more than we would like to believe – and it’s not just older adults living alone. We all run the risk of falling hard and seriously injuring ourselves in our homes. Though we may not live alone, we could very well be alone when it happens. How many of us have tried to use the nearby rolling or rocking chair to quickly change a light bulb or kill a bug?
Research shows that most accidents happen at home and falls are the most common. Women are more likely to die of their injuries than men in the 65 and older age bracket. (www.rospa.com). According to the CDC, more than one out of every four older adults fall each year and falling once doubles your chance of falling again. One out of every five falls causes serious injuries, such as broken bones and head injuries. Even if you are not severely injured, it can cause fear and a loss of confidence that results in less activity which leads to weaker muscles and a higher probability of falling again. (www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety ).
Here are nine suggestions to make our homes safer for ourselves and our guests:
1.Rearrange the furniture. If you have to maneuver an obstacle course to move through the house, rearrange or remove furniture to create open pathways. Fire and Rescue resources recommend that paths be at least 36 inches wide and clear of debris for safe and easy movement.
2.Pick up the debris. Keep things off the floor. Kids’ toys, pets’ toys, magazines, dvds, mail, etc, create an unanticipated minefield. Also, pay attention to how electrical cords run. Reroute them or tape down any that may be tripped over.
3.Mind the shoes. Shoes tend to pile up at the door, collect at the base of the stairs, hide halfway under beds, and spill out of closets creating highly effective ankle breakers. Use bins to keep them contained. If you like to walk in sock feet, consider getting socks with the non-skid sole, especially for little ones. For older adults, the shoe sole’s material can be too slippery or too “grippy” on floor surfaces, causing them to slip or trip.
4.Clear the throw rugs. Little rugs scattered around the house may seem like a great idea for added color or floor protection, but they are notorious for causing injury. Remove as many as you can. If you must have one, make sure it is non-slip and not too thick.
5.Make the bathroom safer. As above, secure bathroom rugs with rubber backing or carpet tape. Put a non-stick mat inside the tub/shower and possibly a shower chair. Grab bars in the tub/shower and beside the toilet are becoming commonplace and decorative.
6. Ensure you don’t take flight on your stairs. Solidly anchor the handrail. Have one on both sides, if possible. Fix loose or broken treads. Use thinner carpet on steps so your foot can feel the edge of the step. For those with vision issues, or in poorly lit areas, consider improving the lighting and putting a contrasting colored tape on the step edges so it easier to see. Use gates to keep young children and pets off the stairs.
7.Improve lighting everywhere. Think of lighting in layers, both in intensity and location. Clean, clear light makes tasks and reading easier. With low-level and dimmable lights, you can maintain your night vision and move about more safely in the dark.
8.Keep frequently used items in easy-to-reach storage. Move items down or up to where they are most easily accessible. Keep a sturdy step stool conveniently stored for those times you do need to reach. If you don’t feel comfortable using a step stool or your balance is not good, seek assistance.
9.Get your vision checked. This might sound like a joke, but it’s a serious issue. We often don’t realize how bad our vision has become until we “see” what we have been missing. Misadjusted glasses can cause depth perception issues that have us misjudging stairs, walking into doorjambs, or dropping items.
These are just a few areas to consider. As you begin to study your home with this perspective, you are sure to find many more. Use the comment section below to tell us about what you discovered in your home.
Thanks for reading,