Fall-Proofing Home Helps Older Adults Maintain Independence
One in three older adults in the United States fall each year, often with disastrous results, such as hip fractures, traumatic brain injuries or even death. In fact, 24,000 people over age 65 died after a fall in 2012, which is almost double 10 years earlier. Many of these falls occur in the home and could be avoided with a few simple precautions, according to Dr. Richard Frank, medical director for Medicare products at Anthem Inc.
Let’s take a quick tour around the home to see where danger lurks.
Frank said a good place to start is in the bathroom, which is one of the most dangerous places in the home for older adults. To make it safer, remove rugs that could cause slips or trips and replace them with non-slip mats, especially around the shower or bathtub. Similarly, place non-skid suction mats, strips and decals to the floor of the shower or bathtub. Consider installing grab bars in and around the shower, bathtub and toilet. Those having trouble with balance or standing may want to use a shower chair. Finally, a raised toilet seat will help those who have trouble getting on or off the toilet.
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While in the bathroom, do a quick audit of the medicine cabinet. Consider taking the contents of it to a doctor to review the medications inside and make sure they won’t interact or cause dizziness or a risk of falls.
Stairwells pose another significant falls risk to older adults. They should always be well lit and include a hand-rail or perhaps two. Clutter should be removed from the stairwell area, including books, clothes and shoes. Speaking of shoes, those prone to falls should always wear sneakers, even inside the house, and not slippers or just socks.
Other living areas in the home should be well lit and any throw rugs should be firmly secured. Arrange furniture so there is plenty of room to walk freely.
Now, it’s onto the kitchen. Clean up any kitchen spills as soon as they occur so they won’t cause a fall. Also, store frequently used items in the front of cabinets where they can be easily reached. If you must use a stepstool, use a sturdy one with a handrail and wide steps. Those who wax their kitchen floors should always use non-slip wax.
While we’re here, the refrigerator could use a falls makeover, too. Getting adequate nutrition, including calcium and vitamin D, strengthens bones and helps prevent falls. So stock the fridge with foods like nonfat milk, low-fat yogurt and leafy green vegetables, while eliminating alcoholic drinks, which are known to cause falls.
Before we end this fall-proofing tour, don’t forget to extend fall prevention efforts outside the home. For example, keep the porch, deck, walkways and driveway free of leaves, snow, trash or clutter and in good repair, including using non-slip paint on outdoor steps. Older homeowners should turn on outside lights when leaving for the evening so their path will be clearly illuminated when they return.
Many of the items listed here can be purchased at a local home center or hardware store. People who need help with installation should enlist the support of friends or family members, Frank said. Additionally, some Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, and some social service organizations, have programs to help members identify fall risks and make needed repairs, he added. Some MA plans may even include an electronic pendant for summoning aid in an emergency, such as a fall. If you have access to these services, make sure to take advantage of them.
“Some people think falls are inevitable, but they don’t have to be,” Frank said. “With a little preventive action, falls can be prevented, along with the dire consequences that can sometimes accompany them, allowing people to stay safely and independently in their homes.”
This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for advice about treatments that may affect your health.
About Anthem, Inc.
Anthem is working to transform health care with trusted and caring solutions. Our health plan companies deliver quality products and services that give their members access to the care they need. With nearly 71 million people served by its affiliated companies, including more than 38 million enrolled in its family of health plans, Anthem is one of the nation’s leading health benefits companies. For more information about Anthem’s family of companies, please visit www.antheminc.com/companies
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