Get Off that Attic Ladder: Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Falling

It has taken me a number of years—heck, a solid forty years plus—to realize that when my mom calls me to help her with something, the count-down clock starts ticking. Her call might entail just a subtle remark about retrieving the Christmas ornaments from the attic or getting a punch bowl out from a high cabinet above the refrigerator. Following our conversation, I usually place her request in a list of prioritized items to complete over the week; I think it should be #234, above exercise but below washing the dogs.

At that point, my mom and I finish our conversation, we hang up and I continue with the rest of my day. That is until I remember that getting the Christmas ornaments from the attic requires climbing a rickety ladder that she will precariously perch upon should she attempt to retrieve them herself. I have that nightmarish daydream of my mom and the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” scenario, and suddenly, retrieving the Christmas ornaments just moved up to #2 on the priority list, #1 being to get gas in the car, so I can make it to my mom’s house.

Sure enough, once I get there, the first thing I see is the attic door open and the rickety ladder beckoning to her.

“Mom, I told you I was going to get the Christmas ornaments.”

“Oh, I know,” she says, “But I thought I’d go ahead and put up a few things in the attic.”

Sigh. . .

Like my mom, plenty of older folks are extremely independent while doing all of their daily household activities. However, taking a fall at home can be a life-changing experience that may result in a permanent loss of the independence they so cherish. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among the elderly. In their most recent study, more than 2.3 million Americans were treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries, leading to $30 billion in medical costs.

Are You a Fall Risk?

First off, what makes someone more susceptible to a fall-related injury? These can be divided into age-related/ medical factors and environmental factors.

Age Related/Medical Risk factors

  • Impaired musculoskeletal function
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
  • Fluctuation in blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Hip weakness and imbalance
  • Neurological conditions (stroke, Parkinson’s, MS, etc.)
  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Side effects of medicine

Environmental

  • Slippery or wet surfaces
  • Poor lighting
  • Loose carpeting or rugs
  • Pets that create tripping hazards
  • Cluttered pathways
  • Inadequate footwear

Reduce Your Risk of Falling

There are lifestyle choices that can help reduce the risk of falling.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay active. A good exercise program that involves low impact cardio and weight training can improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance.
  • Have your bone density tested.
  • Get an annual eye exam. Loss of vision can be very subtle.
  • Get an annual physical to check for cardiac and blood pressure issues.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. This should include adequate protein for muscles and dietary Calcium and Vitamin D.
  • Check with your doctor about any side effects of your medications.

Tips to Fall-Proof Your Home

Now, there are many safety modifications that can be performed at your house to decrease your fall risk. Research has shown that simple modifications can substantially decrease the risk of falls and related injuries at the home where most falls occur. Below is a list of modifications that can be performed for your home or a loved one.

Bathroom

  • Place a slip-resistant mat in the tub and a slip-resistant rug outside the tub for safe entry and exit.
  • Install grab bars on shower walls.
  • Keep a nightlight in the bathroom.
  • Use a sturdy seat in the shower or tub if you cannot lower yourself or are unsteady.

Kitchen

  • Immediately clean up any liquid spills on the floors.
  • Store food, dishes and cooking equipment within easy reach. DO NOT STAND ON CHAIRS TO REACH UPPER CABINETS!
  • Replace all throw rugs that may slip with those that have a slip resistant backing.

Stairway

  • Repair all loose boards or carpeting.
  • Install handrails on both sides.
  • Install a contrast slip on the edge to increase visibility.
  • Provide enough light for the stairs.

Bedroom

  • Install a nightlight in the bedroom along the route to the bathroom.
  • Arrange clothes so they are easy to reach.
  • Sleep on a bed that is easy to get in and out of.

Outside

  • Keep paths even and free of clutter.
  • Install motion-detector lights that come on when you step outside.

Living areas

  • Arrange furniture so that you have a clear pathway between rooms.
  • Walk only in well lit rooms and always turn on lights. Motion or sound activated lights and glow-in-the-dark switches are also helpful.
  • Remove clutter.
  • Secure loose area rugs with slip resistant backing.
  • Repair any loose floorboards or carpet.
  • Remove door sills higher than a half inch.

Pets

  • Place a bell on small pets so you know where they are near your feet.
  • Train dogs to walk beside you.
  • Train big dogs not to pull.

I have gone through this list in my own house and found some glaring deficiencies that I need to fix. I don’t consider myself old, though my kids would probably disagree. The point is, anyone can fall and break an ankle, wrist or hip in a tumble down a set of poorly lit stairs. So I think everyone, no matter their age, should peruse this list while taking a walk through their house and the house of their loved ones.

Being a glorified carpenter, I have a special skill set to repair injuries that occur from a fall. However, it is true that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

We’re all in this together.

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