Wednesday, September 20, 2017

An Unfortunate Epidemic of Falls this Year

In the past year, four of my close friends or relatives have fallen in their home or at work. Two of them suffered broken bones. In the first instance, a friend of mine was getting ready for a trip to California and rushing around her apartment when she tripped over a pile of papers. She broke her wrist and needed surgery. She’s on the mend and doing well, but it could have been worse.

Another friend was busy at work, and in her haste to get things done, she tripped on some steps and broke her foot. It’s been a long and difficult recovery.

A relative who had back surgery about a year ago became distracted and fell in her walk-in closet. Luckily, she was OK.

Finally, someone I know was adjusting her bath mat and slipped in the bathtub. Fortunately, she fell in such a way that she only sustained a bruise and some soreness.

They all had something in common: they were either distracted or in a hurry. I can’t stress enough how dangerous a fall can be, especially for older folks whose bones may be more fragile. As we age, our balance may not be what it used to be, so it’s more important than ever to be mindful of our movements, especially when we’re in a hurry.

Medications that cause drowsiness also put us at greater risk of falling. Check with your doctor or read the label about the side effects of all your prescription and over-the-counter medications, and be extra careful when moving around the house. 

Shoes and slippers make a difference, too. They should always fit properly, and nonskid soles are advised for people who may be susceptible to a fall.

Ever watch those home improvement shows? It never ceases to amaze me when I see a steep staircase leading to a basement with no handrail. Not only is it against building codes, it’s an accident waiting to happen. Holding on to the wall for support doesn’t cut it. Every staircase in a home should have at least one sturdy handrail. The entire area should be well-lit, with light switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs.

Here are some additional recommendations for home safety and fall prevention:
General tips
  • Ensure that the home is free of hazards such as slippery floors, rugs that are not secured and poorly lit areas. Do not leave piles of paper or random items on the floor. If there is a spill, clean it up immediately.
  • Keep flashlights nearby in case of a power outage.
  • Consider installing motion detector lights which turn on automatically and light your stairway.
  • Put nonslip treads on each bare-wood step.
  • Do not use patterned, dark or deep-pile carpeting. Solid colors show the edges of steps more clearly.
  • Do not place loose area rugs at the bottom or top of stairs.
  • Repair loose stairway carpeting or boards immediately.
  • Install grab bars on the bathroom walls near the toilet and along the bathtub or shower.
  • Place a slip-resistant rug adjacent to the bathtub for safe exit and entry.
  • Mount a liquid soap dispenser on the bathtub/shower wall.
  • Place nonskid adhesive textured strips on the bathtub/shower floor.
  • Use a sturdy, plastic seat in the bathtub if you are unsteady or if you cannot lower yourself to the floor of the tub.
  • Stabilize yourself on the toilet by using either a raised seat or a special toilet seat with armrests.
  • Replace glass shower enclosures with non-shattering material.
  • Clear clutter from the floor.
  • Place a lamp and flashlight near your bed.
  • Install night-lights along the route between the bedroom and the bathroom.
  • Sleep on a bed that is easy to get into and out of.
  • Keep a telephone near your bed.
 Living areas
  • Arrange furniture to create clear pathways between rooms.
  • Remove low coffee tables, magazine racks, footrests and plants from pathways in rooms.
  • Install easy-access light switches at entrances to rooms so you won’t have to walk into a dark room to turn on the light. Glow-in-the-dark switches may be helpful.
  • Secure loose area rugs with double-faced tape or slip-resistant backing. Recheck these rugs periodically.
  • Keep electric, appliance and telephone cords out of your pathways, but don’t put cords under a rug.
  • Eliminate wobbly chairs, ladders and tables.
  • Do not sit in a chair or on a sofa that is so low it is difficult to stand up.
  • Place carpeting over concrete, ceramic and marble floors to lessen the severity of injury if you fall.
  • Repair loose wooden floorboards immediately.
  • Remove throw rugs that are not secured to the floor.
  • Immediately clean up any liquid, grease or food spilled on the floor.
  • Store food, dishes and cooking equipment at easy-to-reach waist-high level.
  • Don’t stand on chairs or boxes to reach upper cabinets. Use only a step stool with an attached handrail so you are supported.
  • Repair loose flooring.
  • Use nonskid floor wax.
Finally, check on loved ones who may be at risk of falling to make sure their homes are safe.

© 2016 Geoffrey Westrich, MD. All rights reserved.