Long Term Care: Preventing Falls at Home

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Your first priority in planning for aging in place should be preventing falls. Falls are among the most common accidents in homes. Older people are at risk for falls because keeping your balance as you age is more difficult, and it's also harder to readjust your feet to regain your balance if you slip.

Arthritis can limit your range of motion. Many older people suffer bone loss, or osteoporosis. Hips are the most likely joints to be injured because people tend to fall on their sides.

Falls are often the first step in a cascade of decline that ends up with a hospital stay and eventual placement in a nursing home or death. Fortunately, many fall-prevention measures are easy to take and are not expensive.

Here's a checklist for falls prevention adapted from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a division of the CDC.

  • Floors:

    • When you walk through a room, do you have to walk around furniture? If so, make a clear path by moving the furniture.

    • Are there throw rugs on the floor? If so, remove them or use double-sided tape or a non-slip backing.

    • Are there papers, books, towels, shoes, magazines, boxes, or blankets on the floor? Pick them up and keep them off the floor.

    • Do you have to walk over or around wires or cords (like lamp, telephone, or extension cords)? Coil or tape cords and wires next to the wall. You may need an electrician to put in another outlet.

  • Stairs and steps:

    • Are shoes, papers, or other objects on the stairs? Remove them.

    • Are some steps broken or uneven? Have them repaired.

    • Does the stairway have a light? An electrician should install an overhead light and light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs. (Use an energy-saving type of light bulb so it doesn't need to be changed as often.)

    • If there's carpet on the stairs, make sure it's firmly attached to every step.

    • Make sure that handrails are not loose or broken and that they're on both sides of the stairs.

    • To make seeing the stairs easier, paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all the steps. For example, use a light color paint on dark wood.

  • Kitchen:

    • Are often-used items on high shelves? Move them to lower shelves (about waist level).

    • Is the step stool unsteady? If you must use a step stool, get one with a bar for support. Never use a chair as a step stool.

  • Bathroom:

    • Tubs and shower floors are often slippery. Put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor.

    • Install grab bars inside the tub and next to the toilet. Make sure you have this done by someone who knows how to place them correctly and securely. The screws should be installed in the studs in the wall, not in the tiles, or the grab bar will pull loose.

  • Bedroom:

    • Is the light near the bed hard to reach? Make sure a sturdy lamp is close to the bed.

    • Is the path from the bed to the bathroom dark? Put in a night-light, preferably one that turns itself on after dark.

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