We tend to take our floors, doors, and heights for granted. You just walk in. No need to think about the floor surface you are walking on…until it trips you and you land on your head. We change as we get older, for instance, balance may be less steady, vision less clear. Some of the ways you might modify your home to improve safety are below.
Preparing for action: As you read, make a list of those items you find most relevant. You will return to this list later.
- A wood or tile surface can become a slipping hazard. Do not varnish to a high gloss. Do not polish. This could be slippery and could create glare.
- Wear non-skid socks/shoes rather than be barefoot or wear shoes with slick soles.
- Consider adding non-skid paint or tape, such as near edges on stairs.
- A rug can become a tripping hazard, especially if you have unsteady gait, tend to shuffle, and/or use a walker or cane. Tack or tape down corners.
- Rearrange furniture so there is a path around the rug.
- If a path around the rug is not feasible, seriously consider removing the rug.
- If the rug helped reduce noise, try hanging plants or wall hangings to absorb sound.
- Look for changes in flooring. For instance, watch for when a room has one kind of flooring at one end and another kind at the other end such as due to a renovation.
- Repair broken pieces (of tile) or holes (in wood).
- When there is a lintel (even a very low one) or rounded strip between rooms joining different flooring, consider bright non-skid tape or a grab bar.
- Knob handles may demand too much wrist and hand strength. Replace with levers.
- If the door frame is a tight fit, or too loose anywhere, have it repaired.
- Doors may be too narrow for those using a walker or wheelchair. If this is a temporary situation, perhaps you can relocate to using a room(s) without such a door. If not, try removing the door.
- If removing the door does not provide enough space for easy entrance/egress, consider remodeling to have a wider door frame, or adding a wider doorway.
- Regarding front and back doors, a falls risk is rushing to answer the door. Technology offers alternatives that allow you to see who is there, speak to the visitor, and lock/unlock remotely.
- If there are stairs or stone paths leading to the entrance door, consider visibility. Outside wall fixtures, ground lights, and railings reduce falls risk.
- Clear paths leading to/from doors. A small cupboard might contain the items that tend to collect there.
- A code lock may be preferred for those who misplace keys and do not care for remotes.
- If packages are delivered to your door and placed on the floor, consider having a small table or closed cupboard (with instructions for use) near the door.
- Two exit doors (or windows with fire escapes) are necessary for safe escape in an emergency. If steps on either one are a barrier, a ramp may be needed.
- In the living room, items on or near the floor should be raised higher. Maybe a basket of magazines can be placed up on a small table.
- An electric outlet, such as on a surge protector, may be moved from near the floor to a hook placed at chair height.
- Some items may be too high and need to be lowered. An overhead fan chain switch may be too high. An extension chain can be added.
- Do you have a crystal chandelier in the living room or over the dining room table? For those people who place a chair on the table and then stand on the chair to clean the chandelier – I know you have done this for years – please do not do this going forward. There are alternatives, including replacing the fixture.
- In the kitchen, often cabinets were designed to maximize the available storage space. Some cabinets were designed to go up to the ceiling and others were built to the floor. This may be the time to stop using those very high/low spaces for everyday storage. Either keep these spaces empty and unused or store items there that you use only rarely.
- Ditto for the high/low spaces in your refrigerator/freezer.
- Counter top height may be too high and standing for long periods of time may not be feasible. Perhaps a desk-height work surface can be created, with open under-the-counter space for a task chair.
- In closets, reaching up may no longer be safe and lower closet rods may be helpful. You could have rods moved to a height that works for you.
- Alternatively, there are devices called “reachers” that are essentially rods with a hook on the end. They extend your reach.
- Similar devices, a rod with a grab device at the end, can be used to change light bulbs that are recessed. These have extensions that can slide out for higher ceilings.
Take Action Now
Look at your list. If it is long, it can be overwhelming. Can you identify one of two priorities? Start with these, make your “to do” list, and calendar when you will begin each item. When these top priority changes are complete, identify the next 1-2. Repeat.
Your home will be safer soon! Your falls risk is moving in the right direction!