The direct medical costs associated with falling is roughly $50 billion per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with those figures expected to rise to around $70 billion per year by 2020.Few things can derail your plans to age in place quicker than taking a nasty fall. That’s why taking proper precautions, safety experts agree, can save you time, money and maybe even your health.
With deadly falls on the rise for older Americans, it’s essential to take a look at why we’re falling and what we can do to stop it. While there can be numerous reasons for falling, assessing the environmental risk factors in your home can be an excellent first step in making you safer.
So, in celebration of the 12th annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day, which happens to fall on Sept. 23 (the first day of fall), let’s take a quick look around your home to see if there’s anything that might act as a stumbling block.
First things first: those pesky rugs.
“We always have to look at simple things like throw rugs, low chairs, and chairs that are too high,” said occupational therapist Jorda Redhead at a recent Seniors Blue Book University Panel.
Area and throw rugs are common culprits when it comes to tripping people up. They don’t just pose a danger for adults over the age of 65, either.
“We all like having those beautiful accent rugs, but I had to get rid of mine. I’m 33 years old, and I would fall on my rug, so I had to do it,” said Brittany Jennings of Seniors Blue Book at the same event, which discussed strategies and tools for aging in place.
Laura Wazen, a physical therapist who specializes in balance and vestibular disorders, agreed that rugs are among the most common dangers present in homes and are one of the easiest fixes. She also pointed toward lighting as a big issue in many homes.
“Having good lighting is a safety thing,” Wazen said. “Making sure there’s a light near the stairs, making sure there’s a night light or implementing things like motion-activated lights — these can go a long way to ensure that you aren’t fumbling in the dark and increasing your risk of falling.”
Motion-sensitive lights can be particularly helpful if you use an assistive device to aid you in walking, such as a cane or a walker so that you can see where you’re going while navigating your home hands-free.
Keeping your home tidy and staying well organized can also reduce falls, said Wazen. A messy hallway could lead to a misstep or worse. Also, the more you can do to minimize changes in elevation, the better. This could mean primarily staying on the first floor if possible or installing something like a zero-step entry into your home.
But there’s no shortage of things you can do to decrease your risks for a fall:
- If you have a landline, keep your telephone near your bed.
- Use non-skid mats in wet areas and make sure any carpet you have is firmly fixed to the floor.
- Use handrails or grab bars whenever you can. Remember, grab bars aren’t just for the bathroom.
- Be aware of where your pets are while walking so they don’t trip you.
- Keep your most commonly used items within reach.
- Don’t put off visits to a medical specialist when necessary. If you feel like you are at risk of falling, make sure to seek help immediately.