A bad fall for an older adult can change everything. Among the long-term consequences of falls are serious injury, increased risk of further falls, and reduced independence. While you may not always be there to take a loved one’s hand and steady them as they walk, you can still help reduce their risk of falling by making some easy changes to their living environment—whether they live with you, with a spouse, or on their own.
- Provide non-slip mats. We step out of the shower every day, but a slippery floor can be very dangerous for an unsteady elder. To help, provide non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
- Install grab bars Towel bars may look like a handy place to grab, but will collapse under a person’s full body weight. Install grab bars in strategic points around the bathroom: inside the shower stall or just above the bathtub.
- Get a shower seat. Sitting beats standing when it comes to safety in the shower. (The bathroom is the riskiest room in the house.)
- Replace the shower head with a hand-held nozzle. A nozzle can be easily turned away if there is a sudden change in water temperature. It can make for more thorough cleaning, too.
- Clear the stairs. Whether it is a dropped t-shirt or a grandchild’s toy, anything left on the stairs can become a fall hazard. Pick up anything that doesn’t belong.
- Differentiate between the stairs. Aging eyes may not always be able to separate one step from the next. Try painting each step a different color and adding safety tape. Remove carpeting and add treads.
- Add Handrails. Make sure that any change in levels, even if it is only a couple of stairs, has sturdy handrails.
- Consider a stairlift. If the front door, or even a bedroom, is up a long flight of stairs, install a lift that allows someone to sit comfortably and ride to the top.
- Shovel snow and chip ice off stairs in the winter. A great job for a young person who wants to help out. And it’s incredibly important
- Tuck away extension cords. Has your loved one been using an extension cord to place a portable fan or heater? Make sure all extension cords are taped down or behind furniture.
- Remove excess furniture. The time for sidestepping coffee tables or footstools is over. Clear out small furniture to give an elder more room to maneuver. Also, a deep plush armchair may look inviting, but someone can become trapped if they lack the body strength to push up and out of the chair.
- Get a cane or a walker. Even if there is initial resistance to using a mobility aid, most elders find that the increase in freedom, independence, and quality of life is worth it. Be aware that an occupational therapist needs to train someone to use these properly. For increased convenience, choose a wheelchair, walker, or scooter that can collapse and fit easily in a car’s trunk or back seat.
- Evaluate a loved one’s footwear. Shoes need to fit well and have non-slip soles. Shoes with Velcro straps can be easier to tighten or loosen. They also remove any risk of tripping over long laces.
- Install better, brighter lighting. Aging eyes cannot always see that well in a dark or shadowed room. Better, brighter lighting can help to light the way. While you’re at it, assess the location of light switches. These may be out of reach for someone in a wheelchair.
- Keep an elder active. Whether it is regular walking or light exercising and stretching, an active elder is stronger and safer than a sedentary one.
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