“Prior to the home assessment I didn’t think there was anything that should be done, but having a second set of eyes pointed out a couple of items I never saw. With the RNs suggestions, I figured out a way to install a second handrail for my mother. Just this has already made a big difference for my mom’s ease on the stairs. Small changes can make a big difference.”
-Family member of Falls and Fires Home Safety Program participant
Do you or a loved one have a fear of falling? Are you concerned about your or a loved one’s ability to remain independent at home because of risk of falling?
Experiencing a fall can have a major impact on one’s quality of life. Falling is a scary experience that can be difficult to talk about. People often feel ashamed, embarrassed or fear losing their independence after having a fall. However, fall prevention is an important topic that must be addressed.
The good news is that most falls can be prevented! You can greatly reduce the risk of falling by making small modifications to your home environment. The following tips are just a few things you can do to help you stay on your feet:
- Remove loose rugs or tape them securely to the floor. Even the smallest throw rugs can present a fall hazard.
- Have good lighting in halls and stairways. Adequate lighting enables you to see your pathway and can eliminate shadows. Light switches at the top and bottom of the stairs is ideal.
- Make sure stairs are in good repair and have properly installed railings on both sides. Railings on both sides can offer improved balance support for ascending and descending the stairs.
- Install grab bars in the bathroom. Many people find themselves reaching for towel bars or the walls themselves to steady themselves. Towel bars cannot withstand the weight of a falling body and walls can be slippery. Properly installed grab bars can offer better support with much less risk of them coming loose.
- Apply a non-slip surface to the bottom of your tub or shower.
- Keep a portable phone near you at all times and/or consider a fall alert system that you wear on your wrist or around your neck. Have a portable phone in each room.
- Maintain clear pathways throughout the house. Clear clutter, cords and other debris from the floor and outdoor walkways.
- Move hard to reach items in the kitchen to lower shelves and cupboards. This reduces the need for balancing on one foot when reaching, or having to use a step stool which can be a fall risk.
- Have easy to reach light sources next to your bed and consider installing night lights.
- Talk with your provider if you have concerns about falling! The most important thing you can do is to let others know about your concerns. Work with your provider to review medications that might cause dizziness or lightheadedness. Your provider can also refer you to exercise programs and other activities that can help reduce your risk of falls.
The Outreach Department in Community Health Improvement at UVM Medical Center offers free home-safety assessments for those at risk for falls in Chittenden County. These assessments are performed by a nurse who will look at your home environment and offer suggestions for modifications for increased safety as well as provide education on reducing the risk of falling in the home. There are no insurance requirements, qualifications or fee for this service. Anyone with concerns about falling can be referred. Financial assistance for modifications may be available for those who qualify. Contact Martha McAuliffe, RN, at 802-847-1624 for more information.
Community Health Improvement also offers Matter of Balance workshops which use strategies to help people reduce the fear of falling, make changes at home and increase strength and balance in a small, supportive group setting. These workshops are free of charge and are appropriate for those who have experienced a fall and/or have developed a fear of falling. For more information, please call 847-2278.
The Falls Prevention Clinic provides comprehensive falls risk assessments and treatment in the outpatient setting for people who have fallen or who are at risk for falling. If interested in this service, call 847-1902.
Martha McAuliffe, RN, is a nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center.