Watch Your Step: Preventing Injury at Any Age

Young boy playing on the stairs with his toys.

Every year, 1 in 4 older adults in the United States experience a fall. More than half of these falls take place in or around the home. While you may think of a fall as nothing more than a bruise or a skinned knee, the truth is falls are the most common cause of trauma-related hospital admissions for adults over the age of 65. Injuries from falls can include brain injuries, organ damage and broken bones. And, due to the changes that occur in our bodies as we age, adults age 65 and older aren’t able to bounce back from falls as easily.

Regardless of how long it takes to recover from a fall, you are never too young to start thinking about the risks, especially during the pandemic as we spend more time around the home. Virtual education and remote work means many of us are spending more time at home. Plus, preparing your space to prevent falls is a great way to reduce high stress levels.

Follow these top tips for making small changes around your home to prevent falls for you and your family.

Going Remote

Your home environment may now double as an office space, a school or childcare facility. Office and school supplies such as desks, monitors, books and notepads are now squeezed into home environments. Young children can quickly scatter toys and crafts making every foot step a bit perilous. Creating stations for supplies can help keep clutter off the floor. Bins and baskets can store items that may need to travel from room-to-room or table-to-table. For children, having a proper place to store their stuff can make it easier to stick to a cleanup routine. You can even label shelves or bins with words or pictures to help guide the process.

Learn more: Still working from home? Set yourself up for success

Dress for Success

As many now work remotely, it makes sense to wear casual footwear – even socks – while “on the clock.” However, socks and stairs are a terrible combination, especially if your stairs don’t have a runner or stair liners. Consider wearing a pair of comfy shoes, or slippers with a non-slip bottom just for inside the house.

Nobody can see your pants and skirts on a Zoom meeting, but make sure you check the hems. If your pants or skirts are long enough to touch the ground, they may be a hazard for tripping.

Clean the Clutter

Items left on the stairs to take to the second floor, shoes and bags scattered on the floor by the doors and toys (from kids or pets) can be dangerous. If you tend to have a cluttered, trip-hazard entry way, consider hanging low hooks on the wall for bags and backpacks and a shoe rack or mat as a designated spot for everything from flip flops to snow boots. If you have space, provide a basket or shelf to catch keys, umbrellas, mail or any other things that might otherwise be left in the way.

Light It Up

Inside the home, check for burned out bulbs and spaces where nightlights may be needed. Nightlights are great if you need to get up in the middle of the night but want to avoid turning on the light and waking up anyone else in the house. They are also helpful if you have a dark-colored pet who likes to get underfoot. Nightlights are especially helpful in hallways between the bedroom and the bathroom.

Outside the home, don’t forget about your outdoor spaces this season as the days grow shorter and darker. If you have outdoor steps to your door or off a deck, consider a motion sensor light or solar path lights.  

Double Check the Medicine Cabinet

When taking medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are side effects or interactions it may have with any other medications, which can impact your fall risk. Some medications, even over-the-counter ones, can increase your risk for falling through a variety of factors like sedation, dizziness, confusion or slowing of physical movements. By always checking, you can develop a healthy proactive habit that can benefit you and your family over the years.

Be a Good Neighbor

Check in with your neighbors and relatives to see if they need help modifying their homes to be safer from falls, especially if they are older. You can help change lightbulbs, tape down rugs and clear clutter to give them a head start on organizing their home. If you are concerned about fall hazards in a home, you can always put together a fall prevention gift basket filled with tub stickers, nightlights and other safety materials for the home. 

Accidents Happen

If you or someone else falls, try to remain calm and assess if there is injury or pain. Follow our step-by-step guidance from our previous article Prevent Falls to Avoid Osteoporosis Complications. If the person is injured or potentially hit their head while falling, call 911 or seek professional medical care.

Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at The University of Vermont Medical Center and UVM Children’s Hospital.

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