Quick fixes to keep you from falling

Simple changes in your home can help protect your mobility and independence.

quick fixes to keep from falling
Image: DenBoma/Thinkstock

Published: January, 2017

Home is where the heart is; unfortunately, it's also where about half of all falls take place. "Older adults spend a lot more time at home, and they don't realize there are things around their home that can make them lose their balance and fall," says Madhuri Kale, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

With falls sending about three million older people to emergency departments each year and causing 95% of hip fractures among older adults, it's time to take steps to protect your mobility and independence. Look around your home with this list, evaluate potential fall risks, and make necessary fixes in every room.

In the bedroom

The risk: A lack of lighting for nighttime trips to the bathroom or kitchen. "Many older adults have difficulty with vision, especially in the dark. If you can't see things, you may easily bump into them and fall," says Kale.

The fix: Light the pathways you know you'll use when it's dark in your home. Install night lights or motion sensor lights.

In the living room

The risk: Furniture that blocks the flow of traffic; rugs that could slip; loose wall-to-wall carpeting; floor clutter.

The fixes: Get rid of books, baskets, boxes, electrical cords, newspapers, shoes, and other small items that may get in your path. Rearrange furniture that blocks the flow of traffic, such as ottomans or chairs. Remove loose throw rugs, and if you must keep large area rugs, use double-sided tape to prevent them from slipping. Have wall-to-wall carpeting tightened.

In the bathroom

The risk: Loose throw rugs; slippery floors, showers, and tubs.

The fixes: Remove throw rugs. Use nonslip mats and treads, which boost traction. Install grab bars near showers, bath-tubs, and toilets. Avoid grab bars that "stick on" to tile showers with suction, which are less reliable than metal grab bars attached to wall studs. Use a tub seat or a walk-in shower.

In the hallway

The risk: Uneven flooring; throw rugs; lack of support; poor lighting.

The fixes: Install overhead lighting and night lights, so you can see where you're going, and replace lightbulbs if any are missing or burned out. Install handrails for support, and make sure existing handrails are tightly secured to the wall. Re-move throw rugs, and fix any uneven or broken floorboards.

Outside the home

The risk: Crumbling outdoor pathways and steps; slippery decks and patios; poor lighting; lack of support.

The fixes: Install lights at the door and along pathways. Install handrails. Fix loose bricks, crumbling cement, or rotting pieces of wood on outdoor steps. Add nonslip treads to patios and decks.

4 risky habits to break

Hazards in the home aren't the only things jeopardizing your mobility and independence. Bad habits can be risky, too. Address the following behaviors if you recognize them.

1. Ignoring health conditions

Poor vision, painful joints, muscle weakness, poor balance, and medication side effects can all contribute to falls. Talk to your doctor about addressing these conditions. Treatment may be as simple as getting a new eyeglasses prescription, a change in a medication dose, or a course of physical therapy.

2. Skipping assistive devices

"Many people think they don't have to use their walker or cane if they just need to go 10 feet," says Madhuri Kale, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, "so they use furniture for support. But a piece of furniture doesn't hold up, and people fall." Get your balance evaluated if you can't walk without holding on to furniture. If you've been fitted with a device, Kale recommends using it all the time.

3. Getting up too quickly

"Your reaction time slows as you age," says Kale. She advises allowing extra time when you get up from the bed or the couch. "Take your time. Sit up, count to 10, and then count to 10 when you stand up, before taking a step. This allows your body to adjust to the new positions, and gives you more stability."

4. Turning quickly or reaching up

Because of age-related stiffness in your spine, simple movements such as reaching up or turning cause your entire body to sway. Widen your stance while turning, and rearrange commonly used items to places below shoulder level.

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