Falls can be fatal to seniors or cause injury that puts an end to independent living. Even with good in-home care, falls are a risk if bad lighting, clutter, and lack of maintenance create tripping hazards. If you’ve lived with lumpy carpet, burned out bulbs, or stacks of books in the floor for a while, it’s easy to overlook the risks they pose. The National Council on Aging has a 15-page falls checklist that covers virtually all the fall risks you can find in the typical home. We’ve summarized it here so you can quickly check out your parents’ home to spot and fix fall hazards. Check out the full document for details.
Preventing falls in the bathroom
The risk: No safe support for getting in and out of the bathtub or for using the toilet.
The unsafe workaround: Many times people will grab a towel bar, shower door handle or tub edge to pull themselves up, but towel bars and door handles aren’t designed to bear the weight of an adult, and tub edges are slippery. If your folks are doing any of these things, it’s time to install grab bars.
The safe solution: Hire a handyman to install grab bars with proper anchor bolts in the tub surround and on the wall near the toilet.
Avoiding falls in the bedroom
The risk: Falling at night on the way to the bathroom or kitchen.
The unsafe workaround: Walking in the dark because they “know their way around.”
The safe solution: A lamp that your parent can reach from the bed is a must. Look for a model that turns on when someone touches the base so your parent won’t have to fumble around for a switch in the dark. Also, add nightlights to illuminate their paths to the bathroom and kitchen.
Stopping falls in the kitchen
The risk: Falling while reaching for items on high shelves.
The unsafe workaround: Using a wobbly stool or a dining chair to reach items.
The safe solution: Use a level step stool with a grab bar. Move items your parents use daily to lower shelves so they don’t have to climb the step stool so often.
Fixing fall hazards on your floors
The risk: Falling over items in the floor, tripping over electrical cords and area rug edges, colliding with furniture
The unsafe workaround: “Clearing a path” through clutter, running cords across carpets (or under them).
The safe solution: Remove clutter from the floor entirely. Remove or rearrange furniture so your parent can walk through a room without having to go around a table or sofa. Remove throw rugs or use carpet tape to firmly attach all the edges to the floor. Keep cords out of walkways. You may need to hire an electrician to add outlets in some rooms to keep cords out of the way.
Assessing the stairs for fall safety
The risk: Falling on stairs is dangerous, especially for seniors. A review of research published in the journal Gait & Posture in 2016 found that “falls on stairs… when compared to falls while level walking… represent a disproportionately high risk for mortality or for major injury such as traumatic brain injury and hip fracture.”
The unsafe workaround: Using stairs that aren’t well maintained or “leaving one side of the stairs clear” for walking.
The safe solution: Nothing at all should be stored on the stairs. The steps and flooring should be in excellent condition. If there are loose or broken steps, ragged carpeting, or loose handrails, have a handyman make those repairs and install a second handrail opposite the first. Upgrade stairwell lighting by installing brighter bulbs. Hire an electrician to install extra light fixtures if needed and place switches at the top and bottom of the stairwell.
If you’re not sure who to hire to help with repairs and safety improvements, you can contact a senior real estate specialist. These Realtors know which local contractors have the most experience helping seniors adapt their homes. Preventing falls is a key to aging safely in place. You can find more senior safety tips on the SeniorAdvisor.com blog.