According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) – 3 million adults 65 and older are treated in emergency rooms each year due to injuries sustained from a fall. With numbers like these, the importance of fall proofing your home becomes paramount.
There are basically three methods to fall proofing a house:
- Changing the environment in some way to make it safer. Things like adding stair treads to the steps on the staircase and removing excess furniture and items that can help to contribute to a fall.
- Using adaptive equipment such as motion sensor or light sensor nightlights, the right kind of shoes, beds that are safe to get in and out of, etc.
- Be aware of the medications your senior loved one is taking and the effects of those medications.
At the end of the day – fall proofing is really about doing your best to anticipate possible scenarios of how and where your elderly parent could possibly fall and then taking the steps necessary to help to prevent that. Of course, this is easier said than done.
If you are a caretaker of an elderly person, I strongly recommend that you engage them in a conversation concerning the issues that I outline in this article.
The National Council on Aging recommends that loved ones and caretakers discuss concerns about falling with seniors in their lives, as well as information about their health conditions and details about their last appointments with specialists (including eye doctors). Talking about the medications they take, particularly non-prescription medications that may contain sleep aids, and the schedules they keep to make sure medications are taken as instructed. Keeping the lines of communication open between seniors and those closest to them can address the likelihood of a fall before it actually happens. – SouthFloridaReporter.com
The bottom line is that any fall proof program must include both of these to be successful.
So here are my tips on how you can fall proof your home (if your parent is living with you) or to your parents’ home if they are aging in place.
Medications And Fall Risks
A factor that many seniors, family members and caregivers overlook when assessing fall risk is the medication that they are on.
…seniors are taking more medications to manage their conditions, chronic and otherwise; a JAMA Internal Medicine study revealed that more than 40% of adults age 65 and older take five or more medications and 12% use 10 or more. While taking more medications can increase fall risk, a larger quantity of medications also makes it harder to manage prescription schedules. This increases the risk of non-adherence, another factor for fall risk. – homecaremag.com
The list of medications and supplements that an older person takes can in fact contribute to their risk of falling.
The best thing to do is to consult with your doctor by bringing them the list of meds (and any supplements) so that they can alert you to the fall risk potential of what they are taking.
The solution may be as simple as not standing up for 30 minutes after taking a specific medicine.
Make Your Floors As Slip Resistant As Possible
You may be under the impression that in order to have slip resistant floors you need to install them. Of course, you can do that. There are many manufacturers like Gerflor that make these.
But the truth is that you can make your existing flooring slip resistant. Here are some ideas…
Anti Slip Coatings For Existing Floors
If replacing your existing flooring is not an option – you can look into products by companies like Trusty-Step, Slip Doctors and SlipTec Solutions which all offer products that can be applied (like a varnish) onto existing flooring. It works on ceramic tile, terrazzo, porcelain, quarry tile, fiberglass, brick, wood, concrete, marble, granite, vinyl and travertine tiles.
These anti slip coatings can work indoors and outdoors and although they require more work and cost more than simply installing tape or treads, they will not alter the look of your flooring.
You can purchase these from companies like the ones I mentioned above, you can also check out your local hardware stores and of course, from online stores as well.
Understanding the different levels of slip resistance will help you to decide which product to use in your home (or your aging parents’ home).
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) use slip resistance standards for flooring that are also used globally.
The Slip Resistance Values (SRV’s) are:
- 0-24 = Higher Potential for Slipping
- 25-35 = Moderate Potential for Slipping
- 36 and higher – Low Potential for Slipping
Floor manufacturers normally apply an “R” rating to the non-slip value of a product. These ratings are as follows:
R9 – the lowest slip resistance (not so good)
R13 – the highest slip resistance (the best)
So, for the most slip resistant flooring, look for the R13 rating.
Install Stair Treads For Safety
Whether the stairs are inside the house or outdoors – there are a variety of anti slip treads available to make them so much safer for your senior parents.
Indoor Stair Treads
The variety of indoor stair treads include carpeted ones, rubber and tape.
Clear Anti Slip Roll by EdenProducts (from Amazon) is perfect for indoor wooden steps, bathroom flooring (tile, vinyl, linoleum, etc.) and any other location that is not carpeted. I would also recommend this in the master bedroom, by the bedside if the floor there is not carpeted.
This slip prevention product comes in a 20 foot roll tape that is 2 inches wide and because it comes in a roll it can be cut to any length you need. It’s SUPER easy to install and can be done in minutes.
This is an inexpensive product that can make steps and flooring safer for not only senior adults but pets, children and anyone with mobility issues.
Outdoor Stair Treads
Find them at your local hardware store, carpet store or online at Amazon! Just make sure they are anti-slip and can securely adhere to your steps.
In Addition To Stair Treads
In addition to stair treads which will help to make the steps less slippery, I can also recommend to paint the edge of the steps a contrasting color. This helps anyone with poor vision to be able to distinguish one step from the other. Even if your senior loved one reports that their vision is fine – the chances that their visual perceptual skills are NOT fine are very high.
Painting the edge of each step a contrasting color from the color of the step will help to keep them safer.
Types Of Shoes To Help Prevent Falls
You may not think that shoes would play a part on fall proofing a home but they definitely do. The type of shoes you wear can either help to keep you balanced and avoid a fall or they can get in the way as you walk or simply take a step and thus contribute to a fall.
So, what types of shoes should you look for?
- Wear shoes with insoles that are customized to your feet. You can get these at a custom orthotics clinic near you. It’s worth the investment.
- Shoes with a rubber bottom like sneakers (and some Crocs) are optimal.
- A note about Crocs – I mostly wear these types of shoes and I absolutely love them. But, if they are worn for several years you will notice that the rubber bottom can eventually become slippery so I would caution you to be attentive and replace them as needed.
- Women – avoid shoes with a heel higher than 1 inch. I would definitely recommend to stay away from platform shoes.
- Shoes must fit your feet without being loose. This eliminates sandals or any shoe that has an open back.
What types of shoes should you avoid?
- As I said earlier – backless shoes should be avoided. It’s just very easy for these type of shoes to slip off and trip over.
- Shoes that have a leather or slick bottom.
For most elderly adults – bedroom slippers can be problematic because most older adults wear the ones that are backless. My mother wore this kind and I saw her trip and stumble multiple times because of those slippers.
The best type of slippers to wear are something like the ChicNChic ones here at Amazon. They provide the support and safety that is needed.
But – the problem with these types of shoes is that it can be difficult to put on. (I’m talking about getting the back part of the shoe over the heel). This is where a gadget like Long Handled Shoe Horn can help.
I know it seems like more work (and it is, I won’t lie) but the few extra minutes that are required to put these slippers on vs. the slip ons can save someone from an injury or something worse.
Declutter And Make Space
I wrote in great length in my article Decluttering Tips For Seniors about the reasons why organizing and removing excess furniture, knick-knacks and other items is so important to make the living environment safe for seniors. Especially for those who are using a device such as a cane, walker or wheelchair to get around.
What I’m going to repeat here are the simple steps that I took to declutter my own home after my husband passed away. At the time we were living in a 4600 square foot home (yep, very large) which was filled with all the things that my husband loved to collect.
What I ended up doing really helped me to declutter my home.
- I first asked friends and family if they wanted anything and many of them took something that they could remember my husband by (which was very sweet).
- I then made the decision to donate items vs. having a yard sale (I just wasn’t emotionally up to doing a yard sale).
- The next step was to create a list of all the areas in my home. 19 rooms plus 2 screened in porches and 2 outdoor decks. 11 closets plus 2 pantries.
- I then made a schedule. Three days a week I would tackle one section of a room or a closet. It could be just a drawer or a shelf or an entire closet. Whatever I could manage to do on that day. No matter what – no matter how I felt – I stuck to the schedule! That was very important.
- I would put the items I cleared out of the area in my car and every week I took these items to Goodwill or a pet shelter. (Some pet shelters have Thrift stores but all pet shelters will take blankets, sheets, towels, etc.)
- It took over a year to get rid of the majority of the stuff in our home so that I could downsize and move – but I did it – and you can too.
I know from caring for my mother (and helping friends and relatives with their senior parents) that this is a very difficult task for many older adults. But safety is the goal here and at the very least – some compromises need to be made by everyone.
One tip I can give you that has helped me is to “negotiate” with your parents by agreeing to place the excess items in a storage room vs. giving them away. Then, in 12 months they can re-visit the storage room and decide what (if any) items they may want to put back in the house.
In my experience, the result has always been that they may only want one or two smaller items back. But, they have all still been very reluctant to give up the storage room so be prepared for that!
My Best Lighting Tips For Senior Citizens
Lights are a device most seniors and caregivers don’t think about adding to the home. And they can be such an inexpensive and easy way to make it safer, for everyone.
You can use plug in lights or battery powered lights. I like to use a combination of both because there can never be too many lights! Place them everywhere, but especially in those areas that are used at night time. For example, the path from the bed to the bathroom, the pathway to and from the kitchen, etc.
Motion sensor lights are also an excellent lighting addition. Most people put these in the garage and outdoors but I like putting them in the laundry room, hallways and I’ve even seen them in the bathroom.
I personally love the night lights that automatically turn on when the room gets darker. I have one in every room of my house.
If your parent has a floor lamp by their favorite recliner or sofa please make sure that the lamp is secured to the ground or the wall or at the very least, tucked away behind furniture.
Safe Beds For The Elderly
To fully “fall proof” a home – it’s important to remember the bed. Reason is that many older adults fall out of their beds. This occurs for a variety of reasons but whatever the reason, there are steps you can take to help to prevent this.
- Platform beds or any bed that is lower to the ground (but still easy enough to get in and out of) is more ideal than a very high bed or worse, beds that require a step stool to get in.
- If a lower bed is not possible – then I would recommend to at least put a twin size mattress or some type of floor mat on the floor beside the bed. Of course, if your parent gets up in the middle of the night for whatever reason this may not be a viable option because stepping on that type of surface may cause them to fall.
- A solution that works for some (not for all) are Posey Beds. These beds are designed specifically for people who are at a very high risk of serious injury from falling out of bed.
- Full length bed rails are an option but most older adults don’t want them (understandably). An option then are transfer bed rails which are the smallest and least intrusive type of rails. Their main purpose is really to make transferring into and out of bed easier for both the elderly person and the caregiver.
- There are a variety of different types of wedges, rolls and bolsters that you can use and what you choose will depend on the needs of your parent.
- Bed alarms are an amazing way to monitor when someone gets out of bed (or is trying to get out of bed). There are a few varieties but the best one I can recommend is the wireless version with a sensor pad.
I wrote an in-depth article on the topic of How To Keep An Elderly Person From Falling Out Of Bed. In it you’ll learn tips like using Pool Noodles to help anyone from falling out of bed, and much more.
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.