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Preventing Falls

The good news is that falls are not a natural consequence of growing older.  Steps can be taken to prevent falls by identifying the major risk factors and taking some common sense precautions.  The “New England Journal of Medicine“ has a study that demonstrates how relatively simple prevention strategies can drastically reduce the incidence of falls.  Balance and walking problems result from muscle weakness, which lead to difficulty in safely using the toilet and bathtub.  Participate in exercise programs that increase strength and range of motion.  Learn safe ways to bathe.

Here are the risk factors with possible remedies:

Stairs:

Provide enough light.  Is there a light switch at the top and bottom of your stairs? Install three-way switches to ensure all your stairways are well-lit

Keep stairs free from clutter, and use sturdy handrails.

Is the handrail well attached to the wall and easily grasped? Make sure the handrail is well-secured and that you can get your full hand around it.

Is the handrail at a height of 36 to 39 inches (900 to 1000mm)? There should be a handrail on at least one side of all stairways.  The height should allow you to use it comfortably when your arm is slightly bent at the elbow.

With outdoor stairs, which can be covered in ice or water, keep sand or salt handy and sprinkle it on your stairs and walkway when you go out.  Wear comfortable shoes with rubber soles, which offer a better grip.

Are all your steps in good repair? Make sure there are no uneven surfaces, cracks, bunched-up stair covering or protruding nails.

Are the steps all of the same size and height? Have a carpenter correct uneven steps.  They are a major hazard.

Are you able to see the edges of the steps clearly? Paint a contrasting colour on the edge of wooden or concrete steps (or on the top and bottom steps), or apply special strips you can buy to enhance the visibility of each step.

If you have a covering on your stairs, is it fastened securely? Stair carpeting can cause slips.  Consider removing it or replacing it with well-secured rubber stair treading.

Do you take your time when going up or down the stairs? Best way is slowly - hand on the handrail.  Rushing is a major cause of falls.

Do you make sure your vision isn't blocked as you go up or down your stairs? If you're carrying something, make sure it doesn't hide the stairs and that one hand is free to use the handrail.

Do you remove your reading glasses when using stairs? Be sure you remove your reading glasses for walking or climbing up or down stairs.  If you use bifocals, adjust your glasses so you can see the stairs clearly.

Bathroom:

Install handrails or grab bars.  Use non-skid rugs on the bathroom floor and tub.  Use a nightlight.

Kitchen:

Avoid climbing, but when you do, use a stable stool with handrails.

Arrange storage at counter level.  Do not wax the floor.

Make sure lighting is bright, so that if there’s a spill, you’ll see it.

Living area:

Keep the area well lit.  Keep electrical telephone cords and other items out of pathways.  Remove throw rugs.

Consumer Tips:

Adult children should discuss these issues with their parents and investigate their parents' home to identify and address risk factors for falls.

Hip Supports can help.  Studies in retirement and long term care homes showed that persons wearing them showed no evidence of hip injuries after a fall. 

Occupational and physical therapists can be a great help.

Ask your doctor to prescribe a home assessment.


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