Falls prevention begins at home. Our bodies change as we age, but often our homes do not. As a result, it can become harder or less safe to do things that used to be easy. For example, almost 80 percent of falls in the home occur in the bathroom, and according to the CDC, more than 200,000 seniors are treated in emergency rooms each year for bathroom-related injuries. The good news is that simple changes can help your home catch up with your body's changes. Many of these steps won't cost a dime, and others are good investments for staying in your home longer.
Preventing falls is a great investment. If you aren't able or can't afford to take on these projects, there may be organizations in your community that can help. Ask your area agency on aging, city or county office on aging, community action center, senior center, local United Way office, places of worship, or similar organizations about available programs in your area.
- Check the surface. Inspect carpets and rugs in walkways and on stairs for rips and loose threads. Examine wood floors for cracked or loose boards. Check hard surfaces (like concrete, marble, or tile floors) for cracks and raised edges that can trip you. Get any problems fixed as soon as possible. If you must use rugs, secure them to the floor with tape or tacks. Consider having raised door sills (higher than a half-inch) removed by a professional.
- See the light. Most older homes need more lighting, especially around walkways and stairs. Use the highest-wattage bulbs recommended for your fixtures. Ask a lighting professional for advice on the best types of bulbs for your home. If there is not a light switch at every entrance to a room and at the top and bottom of long staircases, have an electrician install some. Add night lights along walkways and consider having floor-level lighting added to your stairs for added visibility.
- Rearrange. If you find yourself walking around things to get where you want to be, get help to move furniture around your home to create straight, clear walkways. Consider removing furniture you don't use often or at all to give you more room to move and use assistive devices like a cane or walker.
- De-clutter. The more things you have in your home, the more things that can find their way into your path and cause you to trip. Look for things like trash, paper, cords, boxes, and other things that can block your way, or cause you to trip. Keep papers filed away in a filing cabinet, desk, or plastic storage containers. Keep appliance and telephone cords out of walkways (do not put cords under a rug).
- Accessorize safely. Things like pillows and blankets make our homes more comfortable. When not in use, blankets should be folded and put away, and pillows should be safely stored off the floor.
- Ride the rails. Handrails are essential for stair safety, even if there are just one or two steps. Every staircase should have a sturdy railing on at least one side. If you have one, check it to make sure it is sturdy, in good shape, and the right height and thickness for you. Get repairs or adjustments as soon as possible, if needed. Consider having a second handrail installed on the other side of the stairway for extra support. If you don't have a handrail, get one installed.
- On deck. If the entrance to your home has a few steps that end directly at your door, forcing you to stand on a single step while you open the door, consider installing a small deck with railings to give you room to open the door on a flat surface, making it easier and safer to go in and out.
- Add contrast. Make the edges of your steps easier to see by adding a strip of bright tape or paint at the front of each step. Use a different color on the top and bottom steps to mark the ends of the staircase.
- Carry on. When carrying items up and down stairs, keep one hand free to hold a railing. Consider a messenger bag, shoulder bag, or backpack to help carry items up and downstairs. Also, make sure that your vision of the stairs in front of you is not blocked by your load. When in doubt, ask for help.
- Light the way. Make sure you have plenty of light at the top and bottom of staircases. Watch for shadows that may make it harder to see the edges of the steps. Keep a flashlight on a table or in a drawer or closet near the stairs for extra help going up and down.
- Single-task. Slow down and focus on the task of going up and down. Avoid using the phone, reading, eating, or talking to others while on the stairs.
- Check your eyes. Be aware that reading or multi-focal eyeglasses can affect how well you judge distances to the next step. Talk to your eye care professional about options to see safely on stairs and while walking.
- Ramp it up. Ramps or chair lifts can improve the safety of individuals who may have trouble going up and downstairs.
- Get a grip. Grab bars provide reliable support where you need it the most, such as inside and outside of the tub and shower, and next to the toilet and sink. It's worth the investment to have grab bars professionally installed and securely attached to your walls.
- Plant your feet. Install a non-slip mat or strips on the floor of your bathtub or shower, and place a non-slip rug or mat on the floor at the entry and exit point of the shower or tub.
- Get organized. Install a bath caddy to keep toiletries at eye or shoulder level so you don't have to stretch to reach what you want in the tub or shower. Store frequently used items (lotion, toothbrushes, toiletries, etc.) on shelves at eye level.
- Keep it clean. Keep supplies (e.g., broom, mop, sponges, cleansers) in the bathroom to clean up spills immediately. Remember, dry substances like powder can be as slippery as water or lotion. Keep wet and dry towels off the floor.
- Take a seat. Invest in a removable shower chair ($35-50 online and at most pharmacies and home medical supply retailers) or have a shower chair or transfer bench professionally installed in the shower or tub. Consider a raised toilet seat ($25-50 at most pharmacies and home medical supply retailers) or have a comfort-height toilet installed.
- Get organized. Store food, dishes. and cooking equipment within easy reach. Place items you use frequently at eye and shoulder level to avoid reaching or bending for common tasks.
- Clean it up. Clean up spills immediately. Keep brooms, mops, towels, and other cleaning supplies within easy reach. Remember that dry spills (such as sugar and flour) can be as slippery as wet ones, and sticky messes can be just as dangerous as slippery ones.
- Dress for the job. Avoid wearing loose clothing that can catch on handles and doors or touch hot surfaces or appliances.
- Step up and take a seat. Invest in a sturdy folding step stool with a handrail (around $50 online, at most hardware, home improvement, and general merchandise stores) to access out-of-reach items. Have a stool or chair in the kitchen for resting while you cook.
- See the light. Keep light switches or lamps within easy reach of the bed, and use them when you get up at night. Place a telephone and lamp or flashlight near your bed. Add night lights along the route between your bedroom and the bathroom.
- Go Goldilocks. Make sure your bed is not too tall or too short for you. Ensure that you are able to easily get into and out of bed without climbing up or dropping down to the floor. Bed risers ($20-40 online and at most home goods, furniture, and general merchandise retailers) can make low beds easier and safer to get in and out of. If your bed is too tall for you, consider investing in a shorter frame or thinner mattress or foundation.
- Hold the phone. A basic cordless telephone keeps you from rushing to answer and can be handy in emergencies. They can be purchased online and at most general merchandise, electronics and office supply retailers for around $20.
- Lift the seat. Chair risers ($20-40 online and at most home goods, furniture, and general merchandise retailers) can make low chairs, sofas, and love seats a few inches taller and easier and safer to get in and out of.
- Steady yourself. A cane or walker might be a good idea for someone who frequently uses furniture or walls to steady themselves as they walk around their home. Canes typically cost $10-20 and walkers start around $30 online and at most pharmacies and home medical supply stores.
- Who's there? Consider investing in a video doorbell with two-way voice capability so that you can see and talk to people at your door while giving yourself plenty of time to get up and go to the door without rushing. Installing security cameras at entrances to your home can have the added benefit of helping you see and prepare for the conditions outside (e.g., rain, snow, ice) before you head out.
- Automate. Consider investing in smart home technology, such as smart plugs, light bulbs, and home assistants (e.g., Google Home, Alexa) that can help you turn lights on and off using your voice.
- Cover your feet. Even when relaxing at home, wear shoes or slippers that fit well, wrap around the heel, and have nonskid soles. Do not walk around your home in socks, stockings or bare feet.