I can’t begin to tell you how many times I treated an elderly patient of mine who was injured because they fell from tripping on a throw rug or area rug! It was too many times and I don’t want it to happen to you or to a loved one of yours.
If you are questioning if throw rugs are dangerous for seniors – all my training as an Occupational Therapist says YES! Rugs can be a tripping hazard, they can bunch up under a walker or cane and for many elderly who don’t pick up their feet as high as they once did, tripping over the edge of the rug is very possible.
Rugs Are A Tripping Hazard
You don’t have to be elderly to trip over a rug. We’ve all done it. But if your balance is compromised in any way – a rug presents a greater danger.
No rug sits flat and even with the floor. And even if you use a non-skid rug, it still can be a tripping hazard. It just means that the rug won’t move from it’s position. But your foot, your cane or walker could still get caught on the edge of the rug and cause you to trip and fall.
Throw Rugs Can Bunch Up
It’s not uncommon for a throw rug to bunch up. This can easily cause someone with poor balance to trip and fall.
In other words, you don’t have to trip over the edge of the rug in order to fall. The folds of the rug when it’s bunched up can easily cause someone to lose their balance and injure themselves.
Assistive Mobility Devices Need Smooth Surfaces
If you use a standard cane, a quad cane or a walker of any kind – the safest way to use them is on a smooth, flat surface such as tile, vinyl or hardwood floors.
A throw rug, or any rug cannot provide that. It’s simply too easy for these types of assistive devices to get caught either on the edge of the rug or elsewhere and cause the person using it to lose their balance and fall.
Physical And Visual Limitations Make It Easier To Trip
If you or the older adult(s) living in the home tends to shuffle their feet or if they have visual problems – then tripping over anything on the ground that can catch their feet and trip them up is highly probable. It could be a rug, a crack on the ground, etc.
It’s also important to note that visual perceptual issues can play a part in vision problems as well (it’s not JUST all about how well someone can see).
What I’m talking about here is the reduced ability to perceive contrast between objects. (Which is very common as we get older.) An example would be a white rug on a white floor.
The other common visual problem in elderly adults is problems with depth perception. If you see an older person take an extra large step when going from one surface to another (like stepping onto a rug or a step) that’s a very good indication that they are unable to judge the proper distance between where they are standing and where they are going to stand.
Be aware that time of day affects these visual perceptual issues. Shadows from the sun and other lights can affect how someone with these impairments can be adversely affected.
Fall Risk Factors In The Elderly
The ultimate purpose in removing rugs from the home is fall prevention. No one wants to spend months or years recovering from an injury (if they can recover at all) just because of something as avoidable as tripping over an area or throw rug.
Did you know that throw rugs are considered to be one of the top 10 environmental hazards in the home that are the causes of falls in older adults? The full list put together by the Health Care Associates in Grand Rapids, Michigan is…
- Rugs (this includes throw rugs and area rugs)
- Long staircases (the kind in multi level homes)
- Poor lighting
- Unstable Chairs or Tables (I would include any unstable piece of furniture)
- Extension cords across walkways
- Low toilet seats
- Sloping driveways (or any outdoor walkway that is sloped)
- Cracks in the sidewalk
Some of these situations can be corrected (such as removing extension cords across walkways, adding more lighting and raising toilet seats and more) but the easiest and first thing we recommend you do is to remove the area rugs throughout your home!
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information published in 2013 found the following:
Annually, an estimated 37,991 adults age 65 years or older were treated in U.S. EDs (Emergency Departments) for falls associated with carpets (54.2%) and rugs (45.8%). Most falls (72.8%) occurred at home. Women represented 80.2% of fall injuries. The most common location for fall injuries in the home was the bathroom (35.7%). Frequent fall injuries occurred at the transition between carpet/rug and non-carpet/rug, on wet carpets or rugs, and while hurrying to the bathroom.
Now, I understand that getting out of the shower or bathtub – we all want a rug to put our wet feet on. After all, it’s also not a good idea to walk on a tile or vinyl floor with wet feet! That could contribute to a fall as well.
Solution For Bathroom Rugs
It’s important in all matters concerning safety for seniors to assess each individual case independently. In other words – use your common sense and add some caution to that.
If you or a senior loved one has balance problems – I would recommend to remove all bathroom rugs and instead use a shower chair or tub bench and place non-slip slippers in a location that can be safely reached from that seating position.
Instead of stepping OUT of the shower or tub and then drying off – you could be sitting in the shower or tub, dry off (including your feet) and then simply reach over and put on your non-skid slippers and THEN step out of the shower. Here are some transfer benches and shower chairs we recommend.
Ideally – using a seat or bench than can sit just outside the shower would be ideal as long as there is room in the bathroom to do this.
So, now that you know how dangerous throw rugs (and area rugs as well) can be – how do you convince your senior loved one that they must be removed?
How To Help Your Elderly Parents To Declutter
Decluttering the home is really what you are essentially starting to do when you begin the process of removing rugs throughout the house. And if it’s not YOUR house, well, then you may be in for a bit of a fight.
After all – the rugs are there for a reason. Whatever that reason is, it may be difficult for your senior loved one to let go of it.
Here are some tips that may help you with your rug removal project. (and for more Decluttering Tips For Seniors – click here)
- Talk to your parent or older adult first. Explain what needs to be done and why. Express your concerns about their safety and ask them to work with you for the purpose of helping them. Try to be as practical as possible and avoid being emotional.
- Go slow. Remove the most dangerous rug(s) first. But don’t discard them. Instead, store them away (like in a storage room). You don’t want to keep the rug(s) in the same house otherwise they may just try to replace them once you leave.
- If it becomes impossible to convince them to remove the rug(s) in their home – then come to a compromise with the use of some type of medical alert system. There are several to choose from.
- Personal medical alert products with fall detection, like the one from Family 1st are the best choice. Not all of them are able to be worn in the shower (the Family 1st device is shower-friendly), so look a medical alert that is rated for the shower.
- If the home has an alarm system installed – you can contact your alarm company and ask them to install a unit in the bathroom but again this won’t help if falling in the shower is a possibility.
- If your medical alert device is not shower-friendly, Life Alert does have a shower HELP button. You can purchase several of these and place them throughout the bathroom.
- Another option is a smart watch by Apple – it has multiple features and one of them is a fall detector that sends an SOS to a designated number if the wearer has fallen down.
- And of course, Alexa can come to the rescue with any of the following skills: Alert A Buddy or Call 911. (For more about how Alexa can help seniors – click here)
Now, honestly, the compromise of a medical alert product is not necessarily the greatest because the truth is, using it means that they’ve already fallen and possibly injured themselves. And if they have fallen and been knocked unconscious then a medical alert device will not help unless it has fall detection capability.
Go the extra mile and consider a fall detection device like the one on Family 1st’s medical alert (that I mentioned above) or the program available from LifeFone.
There are several other programs that offer fall detection devices such as:
A few books that I can recommend on the topic of fall proofing your home are:
Fall Prevention Stay On Your Own Two Feet! – by Gail Davies, P.T. and Fran Skully, P.T. – This book is filled with 118 pages of simply written and easy to follow practical information on everything from exercise to improve balance to the types of clothing to avoid to home modifications.
Illustrations make it easy to understand and follow their recommendations.
A checklist is included along with references and resources to help you implement as many of their valuable advice as possible.
There are tips on simple exercises that your elderly parents can do to help improve their overall balance and strength which in turn will help to prevent them from falling.
There’s information on how to properly and safely get up from the floor if someone has fallen.
If your parents are intending on aging in place or they are moving in with you – this book is a very good start to familiarizing yourself with the best techniques to make the home as safe as possible for your senior loved ones.
Fall Prevention Don’t Let Your House Kick You Out! – by Gail Davies, P.T. and Fran Skully, P.T. – In this companion book to their Fall Prevention book, the authors go into detail on the things that you can do in each part of your home to help prevent accidental falls.
They have recommendations on the outdoor steps to your home and how to make them safer by using reflective tape or spray paint to help identify the individual steps.
They talk about gadgets that can be used to make it easier to sit down and to get up safely, to keep canes upright so they are easier to reach and more.
They emphasize the need for organizing the kitchen in such a way to make it as safe as possible to get the items that you use the most. This helps to avoid over stretching and forcing you to lose your balance.
The book is filled with ideas on modifications for each room of your house so that your elderly parents can age in place in their home or in your home if they have moved in with you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I do with old throw rugs?
It depends on the size and condition of the throw rug, but after washing, you can use it to:
– line a pet bed (cut it to fit)
– use it in your car trunk to protect the trunk’s lining
– make it into a pillow
– hang it up as a wall decoration
How do I dispose of a large area rug?
According to 1-800-Got-Junk, carpet and area rugs can be disposed of in the trash, however your local garbage company may not accept them. If that is the case, you can either take it to the landfill or wait until there is a neighborhood or city-wide bulk-trash pick up day to get rid of it.