But the best place to start making sure we stay safe is INSIDE and AROUND the house.
If I fear dementia – a fact I’ve mentioned repeatedly in this space – I probably fear falling even more since it's a more immediate threat. And people with Parkinson's disease, like me, are especially vulnerable.
Seniors fall for many reasons. A summary of 12 different studies provides these causes (although it was difficult to quantify the effects of drugs, and issues about medication compliance).
- 31%: accident / environment
- 17%: gait / balance
- 15%: various other unspecified causes
- 13%: dizziness or vertigo
- 10%: drop attacks (sudden spontaneous falls)
- 5%: unknown
- 4%: confusion
- 3%: visual problems
- 3%: postural hypotension (blood pressure drop after change of body position)
- Get rid of slippery rugs. Use double-sided tape to secure necessary space rugs.
- Remove clutter. Clean up toys for kids and pets.
- Wear shoes. Don’t walk on bare, slippery floors in your socks. Don’t wax floors, or at least use non-skid wax. (I don't adhere to the "wear shoe" maxim since mine is a Nepali house where we take off our shoes on entering. But I walk around in my bare feet and know that socks are a slippery no-no.)
- Make sure banisters are secure, and use them religiously. Install rails on BOTH sides of stairways (which I'm glad I did right after my Parkinson's diagnosis).
- Use bright, appropriate lights.
- Correct uneven walkways, like broken sidewalks, outside.
- Don’t let Mother Nature throw you for a loop. Snow and ice are particularly treacherous for seniors.
- Get vision check-ups regularly and update prescription for glasses. Make sure vision looking down toward your feet is sharp and clear. Get hearing checked, too. A stove timer – or a smoke alarm -- doesn’t help if you can’t hear it.
- Keep electrical cords out of the way.
- Remember that alcohol impairs balance, may create dangerous interactions with meds, and can cause long-term nerve damage in feet – a severe risk factor for falls.
- Consolidate living space to one floor, if possible, to avoid stairs.
- Exercise carefully and regularly to improve balance, strength, flexibility. Tai Chi and mild weight-bearing exercises are especially good.
- Get up from chairs – and bed – slowly. Gain your balance before moving.
- Don’t climb on stools or stepladders. Get someone to help you instead.
- Be alert for meds – prescribed and OTC -- that may cause drowsiness. Ask your doc about drug reactions. Read all labels carefully.
- Consider installing a walk-in shower and sturdy hand rails / grab bars. Or use secure shower chair, and hand-held shower nozzle.
- Use non-skid rubber mat or adhesive strips in bath / shower. Wear non-skid slippers in tub / shower.
- Keep bathroom and kitchen floors dry. Clean up all spills – liquids, foods, fats – right away.
- Use night lights in halls, bedrooms, bath, stairways.
- Always be aware of where your pets are. Don’t trip over them!
- Make sure your feet – and footwear -- are OK.
- Maintain a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D for bone health.
- Get screened – and treated – for osteoporosis.
- Have fire extinguisher available in kitchen.
- Use timers when cooking. Don’t leave items on stove or oven unattended.
- Never leave the house when something is cooking.
- Consider a raised toilet seat, or one with armrests.
- Regularly replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. (I have a reminder on my computer to check my detectors every two weeks.)
- Keep everything you need – in kitchen, bathroom, bedroom – within easy reach.
CDC's Home and Recreational Safety
Mayo Clinic's Fall Prevention
AARP Home Safety Tips