Guest article by Sarah Breckon of PrimeWeld.
Falls are the leading cause of injuries and death among older adults, contributing to over $50.745 billion in medical expenses and care costs. The most common types of injuries from falls include hip fractures that can leave a person in significant pain and decrease their mobility for a long time.
Fortunately, falls are preventable, and the most effective things you can do start right in the home. Fall prevention doesn’t have to be costly, especially if you have welding experience. Consider these tips for making the home and surrounding areas safer for adults ages 65 and up (or at any age with a high risk of falling). Taking time to make these changes now can save a life.
What Is Fall Prevention?
Fall prevention is any action designed to keep vulnerable or at-risk individuals from experiencing an accidental fall. It can involve helping the individual build up their strength and stability, or it can include changes to their surroundings that may be contributing to a dangerous situation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults 65 and up meet regularly with their physician or healthcare provider to talk about fall risks and evaluate their risk of falling now or in the future. This evaluation may include a review of medications that cause dizziness or disorientation or adding supplements to encourage bone strength and make falls less damaging.
Older adults are encouraged to exercise regularly under the guidance of a physician so they can improve balance, maintain their range of motion, and keep their muscles and bones strong. Having a sturdy physical form can reduce the chance of falling and make it easier to get back up after a fall. Gentle movements such as stretching, walking, or chair exercises are all excellent options for seniors.
CARE FOR THE EYES
It’s less likely for an older adult to fall if they can see well enough to navigate around tripping hazards. Regular annual visits to the eye doctor may be all that’s needed to keep prescription lenses up-to-date and catch any loss of vision due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, or cataracts.
What Causes Seniors to Fall?
As we shared earlier, many things can cause a senior to lose balance, trip, or run into an object they don’t see. From snagging a shoe on the corner of a rug to bumping into an open cupboard, disruption to their balance can be enough to make them lose footing. Add in additional obstacles, such as uneven sidewalks or stairs, and it can be easy for anyone to misstep.
Making the home as safe as possible reduces many of these risks and gives senior adults a better chance at moving through their home environment without additional challenges. For someone who is handy, there are even more possibilities for making personalized home modifications than for those without that experience.
Fall Risk and Home Assessment
If you notice something needs to be changed in the home to make it safe, don’t wait to take action. Professionals with experience in fall prevention already know of the most common problems in a home and may notice hazards that haven’t become a problem yet.
Studies indicate that home safety assessment and modification (HSAM) may reduce falls for older people. The cost of having someone come in to help may be minimal compared to treating a broken bone or setting up home care for a more severe injury.
There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for reducing fall hazards. Hiring a professional may be the best way to get a personalized assessment of potential problems. They will help remove hazards from the home, secure or repair problem areas, and even upgrade furnishings to those which have proven beneficial for people with limited mobility.
You may be able to handle the majority of fall prevention changes on your own. Some of the most impactful DIY projects require few materials and tools but can make a difference in a loved one’s life.
DIY Modifications to Consider
While not every suggestion below will apply to your loved one’s unique living situation, these tips have helped make homes safer for seniors. Consider which ones apply, the cost to implement them, and which are the most urgent to put in action immediately. Prioritizing which fixes to start with is important, as some of them – like those that require welding – may take a few days or weeks to complete.
No matter how mobile your loved one is in the home, having a clear and clutter-free floor area can prevent accidents. In addition to keeping walkways clear, avoid letting books, clothing, or personal items collect on the floor or surfaces where clutter may fall to the ground.
Make sure carpets don’t bunch up or wrinkle. If they do, see about getting it professionally re-stretched, or look at hard flooring options such as laminate and linoleum. If you already have hard flooring in the home, avoid using throw rugs or area rugs, as these can easily shift or create a trip hazard. Consider adding grippy tape or another textured adhesive to high-traffic areas on hardwood floors so they don’t become slippery over time.
Remind your loved one they should dry wet floors right away, and if water tends to collect on floors, find the cause and eliminate it.
Good lighting can prevent many issues, so make sure bulbs are replaced with the correct wattage to keep corners well-lit. Older homes may have pull switches or hard-to-reach buttons for turning on lights. Consider upgrading to switch plates that provide easy access or look into smart home features that respond to voice commands or are managed from a central location.
Stairs don’t have to be avoided completely, although as your loved one ages, it may become necessary to avoid moving between floors. If avoiding stairs isn’t possible, safeguard them with handrails that are well-secured and easy to grip on both sides of the steps. Welding handrails yourself ensures you can use the sturdiest materials available, including those that will last a lifetime. A simple pipe handrail uses basic welding techniques and offers stability for your loved one while going up and down stairs. Be sure to encourage your loved one to grab on every time they use the stairs, even if they don’t feel it’s needed.
Make sure any carpeting on stairs is secured and free of bumps or wrinkles, and consider additional lighting so that stairs aren’t hard to see. Installing a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs can help prevent unnecessary trips up and down. Motion sensors are a good investment for turning the lights on automatically.
If your family member has room in their budget, stair lifts may also be a good idea.
Bathroom slips and falls are common simply because you combine the slippery surfaces that water can cause with the difficult task of getting in and out of a shower or bath. Addressing both the water and the physical obstacles can reduce the risk of falls and give your loved one more independence in these intimate situations.
Consider permanently affixed grab bars next to the toilet, tub, and shower. While there are many removable options available in stores, they are often less durable than ones you can easily custom-make. Welded rails, made from rust-proof materials, offer a better way for seniors to lift themselves from the toilet seat. If you’re concerned about injuries caused by bumping into the metal rail, simply cover it with soft-grip tape or a similar adhesive. A sturdy bathtub transfer bench can also provide stability. Bath mats or grip strips along the bottom of the tub or shower can make the surface less slippery when wet and give seniors more traction when entering and exiting. Consider this for any place in the room where water may collect on the floor.
Lighting matters here, too. Consider an automated light that comes on whenever someone enters the room to ensure nighttime trips to the bathroom don’t present an additional challenge when your loved one may be in a rush or is still slightly sleepy.
The bedroom should be a place of solace and comfort, not a place for falls to occur. Since this is where an older adult will be waking up and most vulnerable, take extra care to secure the room with simple home modifications. Your loved one may be tired or disoriented when first waking and may not have the sensory input needed to avoid falls. Many adults spend hours without their hearing aids or glasses while in bed, so it’s important to accommodate these low vision and hearing situations with extra precautions.
Add extra light switches next to the bed and a phone for reaching out when needed. Have a night light within arm’s reach of the bed (such as in a nightstand drawer or a special bedside caddy) that can be accessed without exiting the bed if the power goes out. Consider automated night lights that turn on with motion input to guide your loved one safely for night visits to the kitchen or bathroom.
You may find that your loved one can’t get in and out of bed safely. If the mattress is too high, or they lack the strength to pull themselves up into bed, welding a small step stool can solve the problem. Cover any steps or benches with non-skid tape or adhesive to help prevent slips.
Cooking can be an incredible way for seniors to maintain independence and keep their interest in nutrition. With so many hazards in the kitchen, however, this room needs extra attention. Move the most-used kitchen tools and supplies to easily reachable places. Don’t require seniors to reach up or use a stepstool to get to the things they need. Likewise, move anything that makes them stoop down to a higher, more accessible place.
Encourage your loved one to make meals and snacks while seated and help them create a workstation that doesn’t push them to their physical limits if they want to enjoy a cooking session.
Give them tools for cleaning up spills and messes immediately, and check dishwashers, sinks, and fridges for any leaks or water problems that may cause a wet floor.
Senior fall prevention strategies are important outside the home as well. The yard, garage, and outdoor spaces have their share of risks. Just as the stairs inside the home receive special attention, any outside steps should have a thorough check for cracks, uneven surfaces, or slip hazards. Figure out a way to have ice melt added to surfaces that freeze in the winter whether you hire someone to do it or handle it yourself.
Keep garbage, yard refuse, sticks, and rocks from the path where your loved one walks. If they often work in the yard or garden, consider adding safe places to rest or relax between jobs. The entryway or wheelchair ramp should have good lighting that turns on when needed.
If they don’t already have a ramp replacing the stairs to their home (at least one side), fabricating one can save them time and trouble as they deal with mobility issues. Whether they use a wheelchair, walker, or just a cane, a welded ramp offers security and reduces the trip and fall hazards that stairs can cause.
OTHER SAFETY TIPS
These additional fall prevention strategies aren’t limited to a specific area of the home. Use them when needed to keep all living spaces safe.
Wrap long cords and keep electrical cables taped close against walls and out of the walkways. Try to keep tables and other objects out of traffic paths and consider turning sharp corners away from the walkways of the home. As mentioned above, avoid standing on step stools or chairs to reach high places, and don’t stoop down to grab something that has fallen or rolled under furniture. A grabbing device is helpful for hard-to-reach items and can be found at hardware stores or your local pharmacy.
Make sure your loved one knows what to do if they fall. Go over safe ways to get on their feet again, and give them a plan for getting help if they find that’s not possible. Whether it’s a medical alert device or a smartwatch with fall detection, having an extra way to reach friends or family can help save a life after a fall.
Talking With Seniors About Fall Risks
What if there has already been a fall in the home? While scare tactics aren’t ideal, it may be time to share the facts about falls nonthreatening and truthfully. Did you know that falling one time doubles the chances of falling again? With more than 1 in 4 older adults falling every year and less than half-telling their doctor about it, you will want to open the lines of communication so a fall isn’t hidden or ignored.
It can seem awkward to talk about fall prevention, often because it requires your loved one to admit they may be losing their balance or strength. By being open and honest about the options available, they can be assured that securing the home will help them maintain their independence and stay in the environment they’ve come to know and love. Getting their input on the design of any welded additions to the home can be a great way to get their buy-in, too.
Do they want their handrails made from a particular metal? What wood accents or non-slip coverings do they like best? Asking about preferences in the small details will empower them while also ensuring they can pick the looks of these new modifications in their home.
Image via Pexels.