Parents make homes safe for children by plugging electrical outlets and cushioning sharp corners. It may seem patronizing to suggest that children should make homes safe for their parents. Aging adults, after all, have learned to avoid the hazardous behaviors that imperil children.
Still, older people as a group are more susceptible to certain kinds of home accidents —and are more likely to suffer serious injuries from those accidents — than younger people. In particular, age is a key risk factor for falls. The WHO reports that older people “have the highest risk of death or serious injury arising from a fall and the risk increases with age.” In all regions of the world, death rates from falls “are highest among adults over the age of 60 years.”
According to the CDC, more than one out of four Americans who are 65 or older fall every year. One in five falls causes a serious injury, including traumatic brain injuries or broken bones. About 300,000 older people are hospitalized every year for hip fractures, almost all of which were caused by falls.
Tripping hazards can cause anyone to fall. Seniors who have reduced vision or poor balance may be less likely than more agile individuals to avoid obstacles. Making a home safer for everyone starts with a conscientious effort to reduce tripping hazards.
Clutter creates a dangerous environment. Everyone in the home should be alert for toys that a grandchild or pet left on the floor. Remind yourself to put your shoes away after you remove them.
Furniture placement can contribute to a safer environment. Crowded rooms make it easier to trip over chair or table legs. Straight walking lanes are easier to navigate than traveling a path around furniture.
Loose throw rugs are always a tripping hazard. Get rid of them entirely or replace them with rugs that have gripper pads. Replace frayed carpeting that might capture a toe.
Extension cords, speaker wires, and computer cables should never be stretched across the floor. Clip them to baseboards or run them beneath flooring or carpeting.
Mood lighting is restful, but dim lights make it more difficult to spot tripping hazards at night. Bright overhead lights eliminate shadows and reduce the risk of falling.
Stairs are particularly treacherous for seniors who have poor balance or limited mobility. Adults over 85 have the highest rate of injuries from falls on stairs.
Every stairway should have at least one handrail that is securely mounted to the wall. Having a railing on both sides of the stairway is even better. The most effective handrail designs permit a “power grip,” allowing the hand to wrap completely around and underneath the handrail.
Carpet runners might make stairs less slippery, but they increase the risk of tripping. Non-slip strips are a better way to reduce the risk of slipping on hardwood stairs.
Falls in bathrooms are about 2.5 times more likely to result in injury than falls in other parts of a home. For all age groups, injuries in the tub or shower account for more than two-thirds of emergency room visits. However, people over the age of 65 suffer more than half their fall injuries near the toilet.
Since bathroom floors tend to get wet, non-slip flooring materials are essential. Rubber mats or adhesive strips reduce the slipperiness of tubs and showers. A bathing chair is a welcome addition for family members who have difficulty maintaining their balance while showering.
For seniors, grab bars are the most useful addition to a bathroom. Grab bars should be installed in the tub or shower and beside the toilet. A raised toilet seat with handlebars makes it easier to sit and stand.
Older people can reduce the risk of falling by performing balance exercises as a part of their daily routine. Many health professionals recommend Tai Chi to strengthen leg muscles and improve balance.
Good eyesight helps seniors avoid tripping hazards. Regular vision checks and updated prescriptions for glasses are just as important as ridding a home of tripping hazards.
Vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for falling. Some medications cause drowsiness or dizziness. The children of aging parents might want to review prescriptions and over-the-counter medications with the parent’s physician so that they are aware of any enhanced risk of falling that the medications might cause. Asking whether the parent is a good candidate for vitamin D supplements should be part of that conversation.