Home Safe Home

By Chandra Orr

November 20, 2008 5 min read


Simple improvements can make your house more livable

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

"Help! I've fallen and I can't get up."

You've probably seen the commercial and maybe had a few chuckles, but home falls are no laughing matter.

In fact, home falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries for seniors, according to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They're also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries, trauma and hospitalization.

The study, released in June 2008, found that each year one in three Americans age 65 and older fall and almost a third of them need medical treatment as a result. Injuries range from a few minor bumps and bruises to more debilitating strains, fractures, broken bones or traumatic brain injury -- caused by a bump or blow to the head.

"Most people think older adults may only break their hip when they fall, but our research shows that traumatic brain injuries can also be a serious consequence," said Dr. Ileana Arias, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "These injuries can cause long-term problems and affect how someone thinks or functions. They can also impact a person's emotional well-being."

While mobility problems, poor balance, chronic health conditions, vision changes and medication side effects put seniors at risk for falling, a few practical home improvements can reduce that risk.

"Home falls are a big issue. Older people tend to spend a considerable amount of time in their homes, and the consequences can be very severe. Seniors might have to leave their homes, give up their independent lifestyles or be hospitalized," said Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council (HSC), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing home-related injuries.

Above all, it?s crucial to deal with these issues now. "An ounce of prevention is so important because there is nothing people want more as they reach their golden years than to live where they wish, as they wish and be surrounded by people they love," Appy said.

These easy, inexpensive quick fixes, recommended by the HSC, will help seniors age in place comfortably, confidently and safely:

* Install an extra handrail in stairwells. Falls from stairs and steps are responsible for almost 20 percent of all home injuries, according to Appy. Many homes have a handrail on just one side, when bracing against a fall, it helps to have something else to hold onto. Look for small, round, functional handrails rather than larger ornamental rails, and make sure both rails are well secured. Get into the habit of holding onto both rails as you navigate the stairs. After all, they only work if you use them.

* Make sure dark hallways, stairwells and basements are well-lit. Install brighter bulbs in light fixtures, add nightlights to each available outlet, invest in glow-in-the-dark light switches and place a lamp within easy reach of the bed. Make a point to use these upgrades. You may not want to be woken up by the bright lights in the middle of the night, but it sure beats waking up to a bruised hip.

* Install grab bars in the bathroom where you can easily lose you balance on wet, slippery surfaces. The latest grab bars, like those in the Moen Secure Mount line, require no wall stud to be secure; they're easy-to-install and d?cor-friendly. Install one near the toilet, one in the shower or bathtub and one to hold onto as you enter and exit the shower or tub. While you're at it, add a few non-slip decals to tub and shower floors for extra traction.

* Keep pathways clear. Place a table or bench near entrances for setting down purchases and designate an out-of-the-way area for shoe storage. Don't use stairways as a place for paperwork, laundry or other items that need to be taken up and down. Keep cords and wires out of walkways. If you must run extension cords or wiring over long distances, secure them to a wall.

* Remove tripping hazards. Consider changing the layout of furniture to create wider, more direct walkways -- especially if you find yourself bumping into low-lying footstools, easily toppled floor lamps or sharp-edged coffee tables.

* Be mindful of small throw rugs, especially those on linoleum, tile and hardwood floors. It's easy to catch a toe and trip over curled edges or slip and slide across the floor. Add a rubber backing to rugs for extra grip, or secure rugs in place using double-sided tape. Check all the carpeting in the home, especially along the seams, to make sure it is well-secured.

NOTE: Meri-K Appy is the correct spelling of the Home Safety Council president's name.

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