September is healthy aging month, so we wanted to end the month with some tips to reduce the likelihood of falls in the home. Falling is never a good thing for any individual, but it can be particularly devastating to a person who is elderly or who has compromised health. Preventing falls can mean the difference between living healthy and independent or living with injuries and the need for additional care. Following these tips will not completely eliminate the risk of falling, however they are important steps to take to make your home safer.
- Check for rips in carpeting or uneven wood flooring or tiling. These areas are not quite as obvious as a step and can be very hazardous. As a visual aid, you can place a brightly colored piece of tape on the areas of concern to remind your loved one to use extra care when walking in certain places.
- Be sure to clean up clutter, especially in hallways/walkways. Removed shoes are a frequent culprit. Designate a spot for purses, shoes, etc., particularly when you have guests over, to keep items up and out of the way.
- Make sure all area rugs are safely tacked down to the floor and they don’t bunch up, slide around, or flip up at the ends. Many stores sell rubber mats to go underneath rugs to prevent slipping and you can use sticky tape to ensure the edges stay flat to the ground.
- Use lighting to brighten up dark areas, particularly for walking at nighttime. Nightlights are a good solution for getting through hallways or walkways. If lights bother you at night, you can find one that has a motion-sensor, so it only turns on when you need it to.
- Clean-up all spills immediately in order to keep floor surfaces non-sticky and non-slippery. Keep a wet mop handy and be sure to notify your loved one to stay out of the cleaned area until the floor is completely dry.
- Secure all cords/wires and have them properly tacked to the floorboards of walls and moved out of walkways/hallways. The Container Store has clever storage solutions for unruly cords: https://www.containerstore.com/s/office/cable-management/12.
- Keep all regularly used kitchen and bathroom tools in waist-level drawers that pull out with ease. This does not seem like a likely culprit, but if a person is using excessive force to open a cabinet or drawer it can throw them off balance and result in a fall. An easy trick for stubborn, wooden drawers, is to use a wax or oil to grease the tracks and outside edges. You can even use candle wax!
- Have your loved one or client wear comfortable shoes without a heel. Rubber soled shoes are best. Soft, fuzzy socks are warm and cozy, but they are not safe for the elderly to walk around in. If your loved one must wear something warm on their feet, consider purchasing a pair of snug slippers with a rubber, gripper sole.
- Ensure that your loved one always uses their recommended assistive device (walker, cane, etc.) while walking. It can seem like a pain, especially if you have to pack it in and out of the car, but using a cane or walker allows for greater independence while walking. There are many options available, including lightweight and easily foldable choices. Ask your physical therapist for his/her recommendations for the best device for your particular scenario.
- If a client is having a lot of balance problems have them wear a gait belt when walking. You can hold onto the gait belt with palm up from the back. This is a great tool to use when someone is having an off day (with Parkinson’s, for example…) or is recovering from an illness or injury. You can purchase a gait belt at the following link: https://www.vitalitymedical.com/gait-belt.html
We hope these practical tips will help you feel safer in your home. In addition to these, one of our on-staff RN’s, Laura, offered a few pieces of advice. She says that it is important to regularly review your medications with your doctor. He or she can identify potential side effects of your medications that may increase your risk of falls. Also, be sure to get your vision checked annually and update your prescription, if you have one. Finally, sign up for exercise programs to maintain your strength and improve your balance. Many fitness facilities and health clubs offer specialty classes for the elderly or light impact classes, such as water aerobics. Of course, before starting any exercise program, check with your physician to ensure that is safe. On that note, get out there, be safe and be independent!