Falls are so unnecessary, but all it takes is a momentary lapse of concentration or attempting to do something too quickly and we can end up on the floor. Not every slip results in a fall, but many of them do. Sometimes we are able to regain our balance to keep from falling. Other times, we may suffer a less severe injury than a fall such as twisting a knee or ankle, banging a knee or elbow against a hard surface, or pulling or bruising a muscle.
A fall can happen when vision is impaired - either temporarily such as with eye strain or an irritation of the eye that creates some discomfort, or in age-related changes such a loss of visual acuity, cataract formation, or macular degeneration. People are at risk who don't see what is in front of them clearly enough to avoid contacting or walking into an object that can cause them to slip or possibly injure themselves. They may have issues with depth perception that cause them to misjudge how close or far objects are or to step off curbs or raised areas because they didn't appreciate that there was any or much of a grade difference between two surfaces.
Inside the home, when there are two types of flooring that meet - carpeting and tile, carpeting and hardwood, or hardwood and tile, for instance - there is the potential for misjudging how they come together, how high the transition or molding strip is, or to catch one's foot (heel or toe) on the the seam and to stumble. A fall might not happen the first time, but this is an awkward movement that could lead to a fall the next time it occurs.
Lighting is a huge contributor to safety in the home. When people cannot see very well to navigate hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, garages, basements, or other areas the use frequently because those areas are poorly illuminated, there are objects hidden from view because they are shadowed, or the pathway itself is partially hidden by shadows or subdued colors. Proper lighting eliminates shadows that can catch our field of vision and distract us from the activity at hand.
Both artificial and natural lighting can create reflections and glare in the home as they strike glossy or shiny surfaces and mask objects or create illusions of wet areas or other objects that aren't present but cause us to respond to what we think we are seeing. Glare can be so strong as to cause us to misstep or close or eyes for an instant and walk into something or slip as a result.
Certain medications from cold and sinus decongestants, to antibiotics, to anti-inflammatories, or other prescriptions can catch dizziness or lightheadedness and result in someone stumbling, tripping, slipping, or falling. Not all medications will cause such effects, but some might, and they will vary by individuals.
Just not paying attention to what we are doing and becoming distracted can lead to falls. We can walk into something sharp, hard, or otherwise dangerous for us. We can slip because we didn't step properly where we were walking. We can miss a step and we are ascending or descending stair. We can look away because our eyes saw something of interest or we heard something. By the time we look back to where we were focused a moment earlier, it might be too late to avoid an accident of some type.
We can try as hard as we like to avoid slipping, stumbling, or tripping (even getting in or out of the tub or shower or the car), but a momentary distraction can avert our focus and result in a mishap. We have to be vigilant. Keeping clear pathways and making sure they are lit well with no undue reflections or glare is a positive measure toward preventing falls - for us and the clients we serve.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place 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.