Too Much Clutter causes Unsafe Walkways
As people get older, they tend to downsize from their primary house into a smaller, more manageable living space. This may be an apartment, condo, or an assisted living.
However, they don’t want to get rid of all their stuff!
This can cause a lot of environmental hazards that contribute to falls in their new, smaller environment.
If people start having health problems, it becomes harder to maintain their home. Even if they haven’t moved and downsized, things may be just piling up! Things may need to be organized or thrown out to reduce clutter.
In both situations, this extra clutter can contribute to falls.
Keep in mind that it is definitely not safe if you have to turn sideways to shimmy between furniture or between piles on the floor.
You want to make sure that all of the walkways in your house are wide enough to use your walker if you have one. Be sure there is nothing blocking the walkway or going across the walkway.
Electrical cords and rugs in the walkway might cause you to trip.
Normal Aging of the Eyes makes Clutter more Hazardous
Due to the normal aging of the eyes, environmental hazards that contribute to falls may not be as visually obvious to you anymore.
Due to normal aging on the eyes, everyone will have a reduction in contrast sensitivity as you get older.
This makes it harder to tell where the edges of things are – like steps and rugs. Being unable to clearly see the edge of a rug or step can cause falls.
Use a Home Safety Checklist
I am a leader of the San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force. We have a pamphlet that includes Home Safety Checklist.
The CDC has a Home Safety Checklist which says what you want to look for in every room of your house, to reduce environmental hazards that contribute to falls.
For example, proper lighting, stairs, steps, and floor coverings must be considered.
I encourage you to take the Home Safety Checklist and go through your house for a safety inspection. Decide what changes you can make to make your home safer and reduce your risk of falling.
Perhaps you can engage a friend or family member? Invite them to come over and go through the home safety checklist with you. Together, you can figure out any changes you may need to make.
Many of the modifications that are suggested are not too expensive to make! This step can make a big difference in your risk of falling.
Bathroom Modifications Reduce Environmental Hazards that Contribute to Falls
You may need to make some modifications to your bathroom, since most falls occur in the bathroom.
For example, grab bars in the bathroom are awesome because of the risk of falling with the slippery surface in the shower and on the floor. Grab bars can be installed by a handyman or a friend. There are even decorative grab bars that look like towel racks so no one will even know it is a grab bar. Some local non-profits offer free grab bar installation for older adults.
The difference between a towel rack and a grab bar is that towel racks will fall right out of the wall if you put any weight on them because they are put in with tiny screws. A grab bar is screwed into the studs in the wall with long screws, so it is intended for weight-bearing. You don’t want to grab onto a towel rack or the handle of your shower door because those will fall off or break. In contrast, the grab bars are designed to support your weight!
Putting in grab bars is one of the simplest modifications you can make in your home to reduce environmental hazards that contribute to falls.
The other thing you could do is sit down in the shower. People with dizziness often feel afraid of falling in the shower.
You can sit on a tub bench or a shower chair to reduce your risk of falling in the shower. If you do sit down in the shower you will have to get a handheld shower hose so that you can rinse yourself off.
Assistive Devices can Help
If you are doing what we call “furniture walking,” you may need an assistive device like a walker or a cane.
“Furniture walking” is when you are walking around your house holding on to everything you can, just sort of swinging from furniture to furniture. You can furniture walk with one hand or both hands.
Either way, this is not a good habit because you will be unsafe if you have to walk across a parking lot for example.
A cane or a walker can make you more independent and safe.
If you’re not sure about which device is best for you, that would be a good reason to go to Physical Therapy (PT).
A physical therapist can recommend assistive devices. Physical therapists also fit the device to your height and train you how to use them properly. With your PT, you can practice walking with your assistive device on uneven ground, ramps, curbs, and inclines.
Use Emergency Alerts
If you are going to be home alone and without someone checking on you regularly, there are a number of different products out there that offer emergency alerts.
This would provide a way to call for help, because sometimes people do fall and they can’t get up. They may be on the ground for hours or days before anyone finds them.
There are emergency alerts now with GPS trackers, that can follow you even if you leave your house to go for a walk.
Some alerts can detect if you have fallen and activate the emergency response system.
There are different brands and different products. Generally, you pay a monthly fee for the cost of that emergency help button.
Just a few changes can help reduce environmental hazards that contribute to falls in your home. Many are inexpensive and it doesn’t have to be a huge home remodel.
For more on this topic, check out my video lecture on “Taking Steps to Prevent Falls.”
This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.