Did you know that every year one in three seniors will visit the emergency department due to an injury from a slip or fall? While this might not seem like the most concerning health issue people 65 and older have to deal with, it’s important to be prepared. Falls are the leading cause of health decline in seniors — and they tend to happen most often in the home.
If you are a senior planning on aging in place — meaning you want to spend your golden years in your home, not in a retirement or independent living center — then you’ll have to take steps to prioritize safety at home. Here are a few tips on the modifications you can do and lifestyle changes you can make to help you age in place safe and sound.
Assess your home’s risk factors
Take an inventory of your home to assess areas that might be a higher risk for a slip or fall, and then make a plan to address them. For example, because of the moisture, the bathroom is a frequent slip hazard. Safety modifications like handrails near the toilet, a walk-in tub and non-slip flooring can significantly reduce the danger of falling in the bathroom. Stairs — even just a few steps — can be another hazard. Move your upstairs bedroom downstairs to reduce the number of times you need to use the stairs each day. Build a small ramp over or next to the steps leading to your front door, especially if you live in a climate that gets rain, ice or snow.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, cancer and death in the United States. But it can also contribute to falls, as well. Smoking increases senior frailty by reducing your bone density, so if you do take a tumble, smokers are more likely to suffer a break or a fracture. Frailty makes you more vulnerable to serious injury or harm from otherwise innocuous trips, slips and stumbles. Plus, when you limit the amount of oxygen you take in, seniors can feel weaker, which puts them in danger of experiencing a fall, even in a low-risk area. If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your primary care physician. There are tons of resources and tools out there to help.
Improve your coordination and balance
Working on coordination and balance can reduce or even eliminate your risk of falling. Not only will you feel more stable standing and moving, but with a quicker reaction time you can catch yourself before an injury occurs. Yoga is a very effective tool for improving balance. Poses like tree, chair, warrior 2 and 3, and downward facing dog can boost balance after you practice them for a while. Be sure to use a chair or wall for support when you are just starting out.
Exercise can also help with coordination. You can make major milestones in this area with simple activities like jumping rope or walking heel-to-toe to more complex ones like playing golf or tennis. By incorporating this into your everyday life, you decrease your risk of falls and improve your overall health.
Improve your home’s lighting
Dim lighting prevents seniors from noticing when there might be a trip, slip or fall hazard on the floor or blocking their path. This can be especially perilous in rooms where a table lamp or other indirect source is the only way to light the room. The best kind of light to prevent injury from slips and falls is directly overhead at 800 lumens or more. Seniors with eye disorders, like cataracts and glaucoma, benefit from light that supports safe movement with additional task lighting for activities such as reading, paying bills and taking medicine.
Aging in place is the goal for many seniors, so creating a safe home should be a top priority. Home modifications are the foundation to building an awareness of safety, and making lifestyle changes show you are committed to staying safe every day. It’s a combination of the two — a safe home and safe decisions — that will reduce the risk of sudden health decline from a slip or a fall.