Getting older doesn’t have to result in giving up familiar surroundings. Aging safely in your own home may be a distinct possibility.
“We have more control than we think” over our immediate environment, said Dr. Alexis Eastman, a geriatrician in the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.
Eliminating trip and slip hazards can go a long way toward preventing falls and preserving mobility and independence. Among the dangers older people often overlook are broken or uneven steps and throw rugs or clutter.
More than 1 out of 4 people age 65 and older falls each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls are the most common cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in the aging population.
“A fall doesn’t necessarily mean you hit the floor,” Eastman said. Even if you catch yourself on a piece of furniture or a counter, that can still be pretty injurious.
In terms of trip hazards, “sometimes we forget that the exterior can be as much trouble as the inside,” said Fritzi Gros-Daillon, director of training at Age Safe America, a national advocacy organization focused on fall prevention.
Outdoor hazards may include overgrown landscaping, gardening tools, and unintended toys on the lawn or in the driveway – anything that we just don’t see as we’re walking, she said. For maximum visibility, bushes should extend no higher than 3 feet tall, while branches should hang no lower than 7 feet from the ground.
Good lighting is paramount to guide aging eyes. “The older you get, the more light you need to get around your house in general, but especially at night,” Eastman said.
Motion-sensor lights can help. Gros-Daillon recommends installing them under kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and handrails along stairs or hallways.
In bathrooms, grab bars are a prudent addition, particularly around the toilet for people who have difficulty getting up from a chair, Eastman said.
Grab bars come in different colors, finishes and forms, resembling tree branches or other shapes. Simultaneously beautiful and functional, they spruce up a bathroom while lending stability. “Everyone needs them whether we want them or not,” Gros-Daillon said. “For people of all ages, they are like safety handles.”
Before making plans for any home modifications, it would be wise to consult with an expert who has the Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist designation from the National Association of Home Builders.
Dwellers of all ages should try to avoid rushing from one place to another, whether inside or outside the home. Slow down. Haste increases the likelihood of preventable accidents, said Becky Turpin, director of home and community safety at the National Safety Council.
“Most of us are not Olympic athletes,” she said. “Pausing to think about our safety and how we’re navigating our world can make a big difference.”
Easy Measures to Make Your Home Safer
Falls pose a major threat to remaining in the comforts of your home as you age, but there are simple ways to minimize risk. Here are a few things to watch out for.
Keep walking paths clear of cords, wires and clutter. These obstacles can cause an unexpected slip or trip.
Beware of creating wet conditions. Walking around with a beverage in an uncovered container can lead to unintended drips and slippery floors. Carry a water bottle or a mug with a lid instead of a cup or a glass.
Repair broken or uneven steps inside and outside the home.
Install grab bars in bathrooms, especially around the toilet, if standing up from a chair is difficult.
Ditch the throw rugs. It’s easy to catch your toe in them. Instead, opt for either wall-to-wall carpet or hardwood floors. Choose house slippers with grip soles. Bath rugs should have a strong grip, too.
Add illumination wherever possible. Install motion-sensor lighting under kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, and handrails along stairs or hallways.
Increase visibility inside and outside the home. Clear front and back yards, sidewalks, and driveways of overgrown landscaping, gardening tools, and toys for children and pets. Trim bushes and tree branches.
Do you have any home hazard safety tips? Tell us in the comments!
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