Injury resulting from falls in and around the home is a serious concern as we age. Some statistics on the incidence of falls are:
– The risk of falling increases with age and is greater for women than men.
– Annually, falls are reported by one-third of all people 65 and older.
– Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 or over.
– Among people 65 to 69, one out of every 200 falls results in a hip fracture, and among those 85 or over, one fall in 10 results in a hip fracture.
– Most falls do not result in serious injury. However, there is often a psychological impact of fear of falling.
The causes of falls are known as risk factors. They are osteoporosis, lack of physical activity, impaired vision, medications and environmental hazards. There is a greater chance of a fall as the number of risk factors to which you are exposed increases.
1. Engage regularly (e.g., every other day for about 15 minutes daily) in exercise designed to increase muscle and bone strength and to improve balance and flexibility. Many people enjoy walking and swimming.
2. Undertake daily activities in a safe manner such as reaching and bending properly, taking time to recover balance when rising from a chair or bed, learning the proper way to fall and learning how to recover after a fall.
3. Wear proper fitting, supportive shoes with low heels or rubber soles.
4. Have regular medical and eye checkups.
5. Talk with your physician or pharmacist about ways to reduce your chances of falling by using the lowest effective dosage and by regularly assessing the need for continued medication and the need for walking aids while taking medications that affect balance.
It is useful to conduct a walk-through of your home to identify possible problems that may lead to falling. A home visit by an interior designer or occupational therapist might be useful in that they are trained to identify risks and recommend appropriate actions.
– Repair cracks and abrupt edges of sidewalks and driveways.
– Install handrails on stairs and steps.
– Remove high doorway thresholds.
– Trim shrubbery along the pathway to the home.
– Keep walk areas clear of clutter, rocks and tools.
– Keep walk areas clear of snow and ice.
– Install adequate lighting by doorways and along walkways leading to doors.
All living spaces
– Use a change in color to denote changes in surface types or levels.
– Secure rugs with nonskid tape.
– Avoid throw rugs.
– Have at least one phone extension in each level of the home and post emergency numbers at each phone.
– Add electrical outlets.
– Reduce clutter.
– Check lighting for adequate illumination and glare control.
– Maintain night lights or motion-sensitive lighting throughout home.
– Use contrast in paint, furniture and carpet colors.
– Install grab bars on walls around the tub and beside the toilet that are strong enough to hold your weight.
– Add nonskid mats or appliques to bathtubs.
– Mount liquid soap dispenser on the bathtub wall.
– Install a portable, hand-held shower head.
– Add a padded bath or shower seat.
– Use nonskid mats or carpet on floor surfaces that may get wet.
– Keep commonly used items within easy reach.
– Use a sturdy step stool when you need something from a high shelf.
– Make sure appliance cords are out of the way.
Living, Dining, and Family Rooms
– Keep electrical and telephone cords out of the way.
– Arrange furniture so you can easily move around rooms.
– Make sure chairs and couches are easy to get in and out of.
– Remove caster wheels from furniture.
– Use television remote control and cordless phone.
– Put in a bedside light with a switch that is easy to turn on and off (or a touch lamp).
– Have a nightlight.
– Locate telephone within reach of bed.
– Adjust height of bed to make it easy to get in and out of.
– Have a firm chair, with arms, to sit and dress.
Stairways, Hallways, and Pathways
– Keep free of clutter.
– Install tightly fastened hand rails running the entire length and along both sides of stairs.
– Handrails should be 34 inches high and have a diameter of about 1.5 inches.
– Apply brightly colored tape to the face of the steps to make them more visible.
– Optimal stair dimensions are 7.2-inch riser heights with either an 11- or 12-inch tread width.
– Have adequate lighting in stairways, hallways and pathways with light switches placed at each end.
For more information, contact your local Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office or go to the Cooperative Extension Web site at www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10242.html for "Preventing Falls in the Elderly."
You can also find the "Fall Prevention Conference White Paper" published by the Archstone Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the VA Geriatric Research Educational Clinical Center at http://www.archstone.org/publications2292/publications_show.htm?doc_id=143885.
Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available at www.ext.colostate.edu by selecting Info Online, then Consumer/Family, and then Healthy Aging.
by Kenneth R. Tremblay, Jr., Extension Housing Specialist, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension