How to Fall-Proof Your Aging Parent’s Home
7 tips that can make a life-saving difference
In an instant, a fall can change the life of an otherwise healthy older adult. Each year, one out of three adults 65 or older falls, and these slips and tumbles can lead to life-altering fractures, impaired brain function or worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2.4 million older adults ended up in the ER from falling in 2012, and in 2011, nearly 23,000 people died from their falls.
But there’s a lot you can do to keep your parents on their feet at home, where more than half of falls happen.
“People are aging in place, they’re loathe to go to nursing homes and want to stay in their own homes,” says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at UL. “In order to do that, you have to have safeguards,” he says.
Here are seven things you can do that can make a big difference. Keep in mind that your parents may not want you to sweep through their house changing things, so try to point out the benefits, including less risk of injury and getting around the house with greater ease.
1. Slip-proof the floors. If you can remove small throw rugs, which are slipping hazards, great. If your parents love their rugs, then apply two-sided tape to the bottom, says Mary Tinetti, MD, a geriatrician at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, who studies falls. Make sure rugs and carpets on steps are not overly worn, adds Drengenberg. As the pile wears away, the surface becomes more slippery. Use non-slip strips on floors and stairs and minimize the use of floor polish or wax.
2. Prevent staircases stumbles. With age, vision worsens, especially in people with cataracts, and distinguishing one step from the next becomes more difficult. Make sure the staircase is well lighted, and install light switches at the top and bottom. “On the last stair, where a lot of falls are likely to occur, put a strip of paint or colored tape,” says Tinetti. This will accentuate the step. Consider installing a handrail on both sides of the stairs. “One of the only activities we suggest older adults avoid is carrying heavy things on stairs,” says. “The other is being on a ladder,” she says.
3. Step up bathroom safety. Use non-slip strips or a rubber mat on the floor of the bathtub or shower. Consider installing grab bars in the tub and shower as well as next to the toilet. If your parent’s vision is not great, change out the white toilet seat for a black one — the contrast will make it more visible. Use nightlights in bathrooms and any hallway leading to them.
4. Clear away clutter. Be especially careful to keep floors clear. Tuck away electrical cords, phone cords and pet bowls. Encourage your parent to wear sturdy non-slip soles at home instead of slippers or socks.
5. Scrutinize the furniture. Check for small pieces of furniture that are potential tripping hazards. Clear hallways, stairs or pathways of furniture to reduce the chance of tripping, especially if your parent uses a cane or walker. Also take a look at the seating. Low couches and cushy chairs are hard for older adults to get out of and could cause them to lose balance while standing. Higher chairs that are firm and have armrests are best, says Tinetti.
6. Keep it bright. With age, people need better lighting to see well. Forget mood lighting; use the highest wattage bulb recommended in lamps throughout the home. Make sure entrances, walkways and the driveway are properly lit, too.
7. Rethink kitchen storage. Move dishes and cookware your parent uses regularly to easy-to-reach spots. They shouldn’t have to stand on a step-stool to reach what they need.