According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, each year, one out of four seniors will have a fall. Head injuries and/or broken bones account for one out of five of these injuries, plus seniors who fall once also have a higher chance of a repeat fall. If you have an independent senior in your life, these stats may scare you, but there are ways you reduce or eliminate household slips and falls.
Kitchen fall prevention for seniors includes:
- Only use carpeting with a non-slip backing; otherwise, get rid of carpets and throw rugs
- Encourage your senior to stay out of the kitchen until the floor fully dries after mopping
- If a spill occurs, don’t let it linger
- Ensure the kitchen is well-lit so there are no invisible tripping hazards
- Don’t store items too high; shelves and cabinets should be shoulder height for the senior
- Remove wheeled chairs and other wheeled items
- If you can, help your senior with getting things from high shelves, replacing light bulbs, etc.
In this article, we will fill you in on all aspects of senior kitchen safety, including explaining more on the tips above. We’ll also tell you what to do if the worst happens and your senior does fall in the kitchen.
Why Is Safety Important in the Kitchen?
Whether you’re a paid caretaker or you look after your elderly parents, you do it for the well being of the senior. With your presence and care, they have a better quality of life. Yet, unfortunately, their lives can be shortened by a slip and fall. Since you care so greatly for the life of your senior, that’s the biggest reason to keep a clean, tidy kitchen for them.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. National Council on Aging (NCOA)
Even if the senior sustains a non-life-threatening injury, the results of their slip and fall can be expensive. NCOA mentions that, back in 2015, about $50 billion in expenses were accrued from fall injuries. As of next year (2020), it is estimated that these injury fees may skyrocket to around $67.7 billion!
One out of five falls causes a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head injury. – Registerguard.com
Generally, Medicaid and Medicare paid for the majority (75 percent) of the 2015 injuries, but still, that’s pricey! Also, keep in mind that, despite the medical coverage that Medicaid or Medicare provides, these organizations do not shoulder the entirety of these injury expenses. That leaves 25 percent of hospital and doctor bills that will come down on your senior.
Finally, we should talk about how seniors often lose their independence after such a severe injury. Not only are they often sidelined for months in pain, but they may feel such trepidation in the kitchen after they recover that they don’t go in there again.
7 Tips For How To Prevent Slips And Falls In The Kitchen
Per what we discussed in the intro, the following are some methods of kitchen fall prevention for seniors that can reduce accidents and the accompanying injuries due to slipping and falling.
1. Get Carpeting with Non-Slip Backing
Most carpets seem pretty secure when they are on a dry surface. Once the floor gets wet and the senior steps on the carpet though, it could bunch up and act as a tripping hazard. The carpet can also slip beneath the senior’s feet, taking them down in the process.
Check that all carpets in your senior’s kitchen have non-slip backing. If they don’t, then either get non-slip gripper pads (view online) to place underneath the rug or, if we are talking about throw rugs, just get rid of them entirely.
I’ve written before about the 5 major areas to consider to help prevent an elderly person from falling…
- Be aware of the side effects of medications.
- Understand that some diseases such as Parkinson’s carry a high risk factor for falling.
- Make sure the clothing and shoes the elderly person is wearing does not contribute to a possible fall.
- Clutter is a major contributor to falls, especially if vision is a problem. So declutter and organize the living areas.
- Use safety devices (such as grab bars) throughout the house.
2. Never Let A Senior In A Kitchen with Wet Floors
If you or the senior mops their kitchen floors, you must keep them out of the room until the floors fully dry. On materials like hardwood, you can often see the drying streaks of cleaner. With linoleum or marble floors, it’s not nearly as easy to tell whether the floor is dry. Thus, you might want to step in the kitchen yourself and test the floor dryness before letting the senior come in.
3. Clean Up Spills Immediately
Also, should you, they senior, or anyone else in the kitchen spill something, take care of it immediately. Otherwise, it becomes a slipping hazard.
4. Provide Good Lighting In The Kitchen
If your senior can’t see everything in the kitchen, that increases the likelihood of them tripping and falling. There should be no dark corners or unlit areas of the room. This goes for both daytime and nighttime, but doubly at night.
The areas you should focus on to illuminate are…
- Over the counter tops
- Over the stove top
- Over the sink
- If there are 2 entrances to the kitchen there should be light switches at each entrance
5. Keep Items No Higher Than Shoulder Height For The Senior
Your senior should not have to climb or finagle their way up high to get to the kitchen essentials they use each day. You’ll want to move these items down to more accessible cabinets and shelves. Try to keep everything at the waist height of your senior if possible; if not, then don’t exceed shoulder height.
6. Remove All Wheeled Items
Wheeled items like chairs can kind of have a mind of their own in the kitchen. The hard flooring makes it too easy for these items to move or spin out of control, thus increasing the risk of injury. If something is on wheels, it’s better left out of the kitchen. The only exception would be if your senior absolutely needs a wheelchair to get around or a kitchen stool to rest on.
7. Offer To Help Out With Difficult Kitchen Tasks
Whether it’s climbing up to a top shelf, putting away dishes, or replacing that blinking kitchen light, your senior can get hurt the higher they try to go in the kitchen. If you’re available to do so, then why not do these tasks for them? Each time you step in to help, you eliminate the risk of them being injured in that instance.
Kitchen Safety And Elderly Falls: What To Do If A Senior Falls
It’s one of your worst nightmares come to life. You get the call that your senior has fallen in the kitchen. You rush to the scene, but what should you do when you get there? Here are some steps to follow (you can also see how to lift a senior off the floor in the video at the end of this section).
- First, you don’t want to panic too much. It’s an emotionally upsetting moment, but you must keep a level head. After all, your senior is probably quite overwhelmed, as well. Remind them to breathe as you go about trying to get them upright.
- Before you ever touch them, look at the senior for obvious signs of injury. These include broken bones, bleeding, and bruising.
- Talk to the senior about whether they’re hurt, as well as any pain severity and its location.
- If the injury is severe, immediately get in touch with emergency services by dialing 911. Stay with your senior and let the emergency responders transport your senior to the hospital.
- If your senior doesn’t require hospitalization, then you’ll want to help them to their feet gently, keeping their injury in mind as you do so. To start, you should brace one hand near their feet and the other near their head.
- Then, gingerly move your senior over so they’re lying sideways. If they can get on hands and knees at this point, let them. Otherwise, step in and help. You might want to keep a towel or blanket beneath them so the senior doesn’t hurt their knees more.
- Position a chair close to their head. Then, encourage them to put their hands on the chair so only their knees are on the floor.
- Now ask them, if possible, to get up on one leg only. This should be the stronger or better of the two legs.
- Grab a second chair to brace the senior. Ask them to get into this chair now that they’re mostly standing. Help if necessary.
- Next, inspect your senior for any signs of serious injury that you might not have seen before.
- Decide what to do from there. You may bring them to the hospital anyway or set up an emergency doctor’s appointment for later that day or the next day.
Symptoms To Look For After A Fall
Besides the bruising and bleeding your senior may have after a fall, they’re also susceptible to a traumatic brain injury. This can occur if their body or head took a hard impact. Depending on the extent of the injury, one can have mild, moderate, and severe traumatic brain injuries, says Mayo Clinic. These symptoms affect a person mentally and physically and can even manifest through sensory symptoms.
The symptoms for a mild traumatic brain injury include:
- Anxiousness and depression
- Mood swings or other mood changes
- Difficulties with concentration and/or memory
- Sound and light sensitivity
- Changed perception to smell
- Consistent bad taste in their mouth
- Ringing in the ear(s)
- Blurry vision
- Imbalance and dizziness
- Sleeping a lot or sleeplessness
- Speech slurring and other issues
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Vomiting and nausea
- Disorientation, often accompanied by confusion
- Temporary unconsciousness; this may go on for seconds at a time or even minutes
If your senior has a more serious traumatic brain injury, their symptoms will include:
- Consciousness disorders, including coma
- Slurred speech
- Strange behavior, including aggression and agitation
- Intense confusion
- Toe and finger numbness and/or weakness
- Unable to wake up easily after sleeping
- Ear and nose fluid leakage
- Pupil dilation
- Seizures or convulsions
- Nausea and vomiting repeatedly
- Intense headaches
- Unconsciousness that may go on for hours
If you believe your senior has a traumatic brain injury, you should get them medical attention immediately.
Elderly Fall Prevention Devices
Another means of keeping your senior safe from slips and falls that you might consider is an elderly fall prevention device. These include far more than the wearable calling devices you may have seen in television commercials. Today’s elderly fall prevention devices also encompass the following:
- Anti-wandering door systems like this one from Senior DepartAlert
- Motion sensors
- Wheelchair seat belts
- Floor mats that sense one’s weight
- Chair exit alarms like the Vive Wireless Chair Alarm
- Bed pressure pads with weight-sensing capabilities
- Pull-string fall prevention alarms
Through one or more of these devices and your careful monitoring, it’s possible to reduce instances of falls for your senior.
If your senior falls in the kitchen, it can have disastrous consequences. They could suffer severe injuries, including a traumatic brain injury. Some falls can even be fatal.
Luckily, you have many options at your disposal to keep your senior safe and upright. These include cleaning the kitchen for them, keeping items in lower shelves and cabinets, aiding in the kitchen when necessary, and investing in an elderly fall prevention device.