Yellow and black warning sign on stairs stating "Watch your Step", signifying a potential trip hazard.

Posted by Ivan Guerassimov on April 9, 2018 in Aging & Health, Seniors

Most seniors expect to live an independent, active lifestyle throughout their retirement years. But for some seniors, their independence can be jeopardized by a fall. Each year, approximately one of every three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall. In some cases, the injury sustained can making living independently in their own home more difficult.

But there are preventative steps you can take that will reduce the likelihood of a fall. By reducing these potential hazards, you can protect yourself and your independence.

1. Staircases

Staircases present one of the biggest falling hazards. Going down, or up, the stairs causes the body’s weight and centre of gravity to shift with each step, making it easier for someone to lose balance.

Be sure your staircase has a securely installed handrail that is at the proper height. A handrail that is too low or high can put a person slightly off-balance and be of little assistance in stabilizing a fall. When you walk down or up the stairs, always hold onto the handrail for stability.

Keep stairs free of clutter and objects that can become tripping hazards. When the treads and landings are clear, the stairs easier to navigate because there is more room to place the foot securely.

If you frequently have objects you carry from floor to floor in your home, consider keeping a basket or bag on a table near the stairs to carry these things. Whatever style of container you use, ensure it is lightweight and allows you to hold the handrail as you ascend or descend. Instead of carrying objects up and down the stairs, it might be a good idea to have one of those items on each floor. For example, if you use a cane, consider keeping one upstairs and a second one downstairs.

Loose rugs or mats can also be a tripping hazard because they slide around. Remove these from landings and at the top or bottom of the staircase to prevent slips.

Take your time when going up or down the stairs. While you may occasionally be in a hurry, slowing down and taking a few extra moments to ascend or descend will keep you safe.

2. Wet Floors

Because a wet floor reduces the amount of contact between the floor and a shoe’s sole, slips and falls can occur. In areas where liquids are frequently spilled, such as a kitchen or bathroom, it’s key to take precautions. In the bathroom, install grab bars to be used when getting in or out of the shower or tub. Also, use only non-slip mats in both the kitchen and bathroom.

Water and other liquids inevitably get spilled, especially when young grandchildren are around. When spills occur, clean up the liquid immediately. Keep a long-handled mop—preferably with an absorbent sponge head—nearby so you don’t have to get on your hands and knees to wipe the spill. If you are unable to clean up, avoid the area until someone else can do it.

3. Inadequate Lighting

However well you know the spaces within your home, shadows and poor lighting can become a hazard by making it difficult to see objects in your path.

Survey the lights in your house and replace all burnt-out bulbs. Use the maximum wattage light bulb for the fixture to ensure good illumination. In places where the lighting is dim, consider installing another fixture or using a lamp.

Make sure the cords to all lamps are tucked away safely and securely under furniture or against the wall. An exposed cord can get tangled in your feet, causing a fall. This is true for all electrical cords—keep them secured away from any walking paths. Also, avoid putting electrical cords under throw rugs, especially in the pathways through rooms. The cords create an uneven surface which can be a tripping hazard.

Install night lights throughout your home, especially in hallways and bathrooms, to provide illumination at night. Having one in your bedroom will help you to see better if you wake in the night. Using the type of night light with built-in sensors means they will turn on automatically whenever the amount of light drops below a certain level, including on overcast days.

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4. Fatigue

Everyone experiences fatigue or tiredness now and then. But what often gets overlooked are the effects of fatigue. When you are tired, you could experience slowed reflexes, dizziness, or a lack of coordination. These physical effects of fatigue could increase the risk of a fall because they disrupt your sense of balance and ability to recover from a slight slip or trip.

If you’re feeling tired, rest. Even sitting down for a while or taking a short nap can help restore your physical capabilities. Once you are feeling more alert, you can resume your activities more confidently.

Sometimes fatigue can be caused by medications. So if the fatigue persists, speak with your medical doctor.

5. Lack of Exercise

Seniors who do not get adequate exercise can experience weakened muscles and a loss of balance, conditions that can increase the risk of falls. In some cases, the fear of falling causes people to reduce their activity levels, which can further increase the risk.

Studies have proven that regular, moderate exercise helps to significantly reduce the risk of falls by increasing muscle strength and improving balance. Moreover, regular exercise helps to improve overall health and energy levels.

While joining a gym may not be of interest for you, there are a range of fitness classes designed specifically for seniors at most community centres. Gardening, walking, and simple stretching exercises might be more in tune with your lifestyle. The key is to be active on a regular basis.

Whatever activity you choose, consult with your healthcare provider before beginning to ensure the activity or program is suitable for you.

6. Preventing Falls

You can reduce the risk of falls and avoid having to say the words, “Help, I’ve fallen.” Review your home for tripping or falling hazards and take the steps listed above to eliminate them. Take care of your physical health by getting adequate exercise and rest.

Also consider a medical alert system to increase your sense of confidence and security. Knowing that help is a push of a button away if a fall does occur, allows you to remain active and independent.  Some services also offer automatic fall detection, in case you can’t push the button for help after a fall.  This feature can offer even greater peace of mind if you are concerned about or at risk for falls.

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