Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Homes Need To Be Safe, But There's Still A Lot Of Work To Do"

Fall weather is coming. It may not be present yet, but it's getting close. It's a time of year we look forward to for cooler weather, the harvest, fall color, and many other aspects of the changing season. We get to wear those sweaters and lightweight jackets that have been in the dresser or closet for a few months.

September is a transition month. Summer is in the rearview mirror but it's still quite pleasant outside. Nevertheless, September is designated as "Falls Prevention Month" to coincide with the beginning of the fall season.

As aging in place professionals, we know that there are so many injuries that can occur in and around the home from falls. So, let's make sure that the only type of fall we are talking about - for ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients - has to do with the weather and 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.


We expect falls from the very young as they are adjusting to walking, maintaining their balance, and to life in general. Of course, they are more flexible and lower to the ground than an adult so they tend to become injured much less. Then the late teens and early twenties become a time when people try out various sports and outdoor activities - often viewed as risky by parents and other older adults. Young men seem to be especially vulnerable to falls from these physical adventures and the resultant head injuries or TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). 

While not true for everyone, as we get older our bones tend to become thinner and more brittle. Thus, falls become much more serious. Broken bones - especially hips - can take considerably longer to heal than is the case for a younger person and lead to other health complications.

Fall prevention relates back to personal safety and how well someone's home or apartment allows them to exist within it safely. Are the passageways open to permit free movement? Is the space comfortable? Are there obstacles that restrict mobility? Are items stored out in the open rather than put away? In general, are there clutter, loose rugs or flooring, or just too much stuff that is accumulating throughout the home?

Restricted access and passage, dizzying patterns (wallpaper, flooring, artwork, or upholstery, for instance), not enough lighting to illuminate spaces evenly and eliminate shadows or changes in elevation (especially minor ones), 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 serious reminder - and challenge - that this is a top priority all year (and not just the month of September). We need to vigilant in creating and maintaining safe, comfortable, convenient, and accessible dwellings for everyone that we have the ability to do so.


Visitability is a great concept to embrace and one that will help us focus on eliminating potential falling or tripping hazards as well.

Home safety begins at the curb and continues throughout the home into every facet of it - all the living spaces, the entrance and exit, the garage, basement, pool or spa, and backyard. Using appliances, power tools, yard equipment, cooking, preparing meals, grooming, showering, and so many other activities provide enjoyment for people or are considered essential activities, but they can be dangerous at the same time.

Fall prevention leads the list of being safe in and about our homes, but there are many other aspects of remaining safe that are important.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, 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.