As we approach the fall season, it's important that we also recognize that September is "Falls Prevention Month." As we prepare for the arrival of fall, let's make sure that the only type of fall we are talking about is the weather - not one where someone is potentially injured.
Falls aren't limited to the elderly, but it seems to be more disastrous and longer lasting (even traumatic) when it happens to people who aren't quite as physically prepared to rebound well from an accidental fall.
Falls can happen anywhere, but people are particularly vulnerable to falling in their homes. The bathroom tops the list of locations in the home where this occurs. Bathrooms are pretty unforgiving when someone does fall. There are several large, hard surfaces that someone could fall against - bathtub, shower floor, wall, tile floor, toilet, sink, or accessory such as a towel bar.
Making matters worse, people generally are not thinking of fall prevention when they are in the bathroom so we must do that for them.
It's not just the bathroom - kitchens, hallways, and entrance are places where falls in the home also occur. Of course, no spot in the home is totally safe from falling - even getting in or out of bed.
Falls and falls prevention relate back to personal safety - how safe and secure does someone feel moving about within their home and how well does that home or apartment allow them to exist within it safely. Are the passageways sufficiently wide and open enough to permit free movement? Is the space comfortable? Are there obstacles that restrict mobility, storage that is out in the open rather than put away, general clutter, or just too much stuff that is accumulating everywhere? Are large pieces of furniture protruding into passageways? Are there loose rugs that could lip or bunch up that could cause someone to stumble? Are items in closets, cabinets, or pantries stored so high that reaching them becomes a safety concern?
Whether it is our personal residence, that of a parent or other loved one, a neighbor or someone else we know, or one that we have been retained to improve, we have a huge responsibility. As aging-in-place specialists, remodelers, OTs and PTs, designers, builders, real estate sales professionals, and others knowledgeable about interior space utilization, we know the danger that clutter generates. General busyness of patterns and furniture, boldness of colors, too much glare, and lack of contrast also contribute to potential falls.
Restricted access and passage, confusing or dizzying patterns, not enough light to illuminate an area, and glare that hides surfaces or creates the illusion of wetness are dangers that we cannot afford to let exist as long as we have some say in correcting them. This is our challenge - for our own residences, for our relatives and friends, and for our clients.
Let's take "Falls Prevention Month" as a reminder that this is a top priority all year (and not just September). We need to focus on creating and maintaining safe, comfortable, convenient, and accessible dwellings for everyone when we have the ability to do so.
If we focus on visitability and how well someone can move from the perimeter sidewalk of driveway to and through the front door (visitor or resident), and then take it step-by-step from there, we will have pinpointed many areas of concern so they can be addressed and eliminated.
Falls can have serious consequences. At the least they are embarrassing and inconvenient. They can cause very serious injury. Falls do happen. Not looking where we are going, planting our foot wrong on the floor, or losing our balance can cause a slip, stumble, or fall. Let's not complicate it by allowing unsafe conditions to remain in the home.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.