As heard on 92.3 The Tide:
The number of falls in the US is increasing, especially among the older population. It is anticipated that by 2030 falls will be responsible for 7 deaths every hour. One out of four people over the age of 65 fall each year and falling once increases the risk of falling again. However, the risk is not limited to the older population.
Falls can be costly from emergency room visits to lost time at work. They are the most common cause of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and hip fractures. So, the biggest question is how to prevent falls in the first place. This is tough as most falls happen within the home, therefore that should be where we begin.
While throw and area rugs are extremely popular in décor, they are a leading cause of falls in the home. They can move unexpectedly, slide and the edges can easily be tripped over.
Lighting should be bright with easily accessible switches. You can never have too much light, by using an appropriate dimmer you can adjust the brightness for every occasion. A smart switch is a great and easy way to set a schedule for home lighting, and you can also use voice commands to control the lights.
Using a contrast of color can help distinguish between horizontal and vertical surfaces such as stairs. Decorative moldings can also be used to highlight changes in space and help make them more noticeable.
Kitchens are a prime spot for falls in the home. Reaching for large or awkward items stored up high or down low can make you feel unbalanced and contribute to a fall. It is important to store the items you use most between “the knees and the nose”. Anything stored lower should not be excessively heavy and items stored up high should be reached using an appropriate step ladder with non-slip feet and a graspable handrail. Cabinets can also be equipped with a variety of storage options to make accessibility easier and safer.
Using “C” or “D” shaped handles on cabinets reduces the risk of clothing getting hooked as you walk by.
Cabinets, counters, and tile should have variation in color to make it easier to distinguish between the various surfaces, especially for people with vision problems. (Apologies to the popular white on white kitchens!)
Falls in bathrooms can be extremely dangerous due to the hard surfaces and water making floors slippery. If possible, install a curbless or zero-entry shower, and use different variations in the wall tile pattern to give visual perspective.
Grab bars are essential on both the inside and outside of showers and tubs along with the use of non-slip mats. Since the natural reaction when falling is to reach out and grab something to break the fall, it is recommended to use decorative grab bars as towel bars. If someone were to grab a normal towel bar when falling, it would rip out of the wall and possibly cause more damage. All bathroom accessories should be rated to hold 250 pounds if pulled in any direction.
A night-light in the bathroom is helpful for entry at night without having to turn on a main light.
In a nutshell..
When it comes to ways to prevent falls in the home, we have just scratched the surface. One of the best ways to make your home accessible, comfortable, and safe for all family, friends, and visitors, is to ask a Certified Living in Place ProfessionalTM. They have the knowledge to assess a home and make recommendations for alterations and improvements. Armed with that knowledge, you can then make decisions on how to best improve your home, even if it is a little at a time. Every change helps and can better prevent from having a fall in your home.
Mark Redman is a NKBA Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer (CKBD) and a Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP) with over 30 years of award-winning experience.
Mark is a trusted mentor/advisor to both remodelers and homeowners.