You know your home – the route to the bathroom, the placement of the furniture, and the locations of the light switches. But are your home and lifestyle protecting you from the risk of falling? For seniors especially, falls are a leading cause of hospitalization. Many of these falls occur in the home.
Tiffany Chow, occupational therapist for the Falls Prevention Program at Sunnybrook’s St. John’s Rehab, offers these tips to help you ensure your home is your safe haven.
Pace yourself. It’s easy to rush when you’re juggling the demands of home life, but it’s important to slow down and pace yourself. As we age, our bodies may not react and move as quickly or as easily as we think! Walk with intention and be mindful of your movements.
Mind your feet. Socks or going barefoot at home may be comfy, but you could easily slip or stub your toes and lose your balance. Wear indoor shoes or slippers that have closed heels, closed toes, and a non-slip rubberized sole. Make sure your shoes fit well so they aren’t going to fall off your feet and become a tripping hazard.
Clear the clutter. Keep those high traffic areas free from obstacles by removing or securing loose electrical cords, unnecessary small furniture and general clutter. Get rid of any loose rugs or scatter mats, which are common tripping hazards. If you think your rug with that non-slip backing is safe, think again! Even though they may not slip or slide on the floor, you can still trip over the edges. At the very least, secure your rugs to the floor with double-sided tape.
Get a grip. Don’t rely on your walls and furniture for support. Instead, use walking aids like a cane or walker, or install grab-bars if you need additional support. Unlike the furniture and walls, walking aids will help you get the grip you need to support your body.
Practice safe hygiene. Prevent slipping and sliding by wiping up spills immediately and using a non-slip bathmat on the floor inside and outside your bathtub. Don’t hang on to your towel rack! Instead, install grab-bars in your bathtub or beside your toilet for additional support. If balance and fatigue is an issue, you may want to consider using a bath chair and handheld shower head that will let you sit while you’re bathing.
Take one step at a time. Stairs are a common problem area for falls and they take a lot of effort! Hold on to the railing even if you think you can do without. Try installing a second handrail for additional support, or use a cane in one hand and the handrail with the other to climb the stairs. Increase the visibility of your stairs by putting coloured tape on the edge of each step to clearly differentiate one from the other.
Look around. Make sure your rooms, hallways and stairways have adequate lighting so you can see the objects and walking path around you. Use a nightlight to help guide you in the middle of the night. Even with the right lighting, it’s tough to safely navigate around your home if your eyesight is poor. Make sure your eyes get tested regularly and use corrective eyewear if you need them.
Conserve your energy. Eating nutritious meals will help you keep your strength and balance throughout the day. Conserve your energy by taking frequent rest breaks, sitting to complete activities, and placing commonly used items within easy reach to avoid bending and overhead lifting. Most importantly, get a good night’s sleep!
The Falls Prevention Program at St. John’s Rehab is available for free to eligible participants. For more information, and referral and eligibility criteria, visit sunnybrook.ca/stjohnsrehab/falls