Kind of like bookends to the warm. outdoor-living and activity summer months, the months of June (the current month) and September focus on huge safety issues for everyone. June is celebrated at “Home SafetyMonth,” and September is observed as “Falls Prevention Month.” The common denominators here are twofold: (1) safety – keeping people safe, especially from falling, and (2) us – as aging in place professionals.
In the designs that we craft, recommend, suggest, and implement for our aging in place clients, regardless of their apparent current needs (from little to extensive), we have an opportunity as well as an obligation to establish safe practices in the home. These can be fashioned in several ways involving better and proper lighting, solid and non-slip flooring, elimination of objects in passageways that might cause contact injuries or stumbles, and attention to other details in the home to make sure they can be accessed and used in a safe manner.
Safety is a broad concept. It is very simple – remaining free from injury. However, the many facets of living in a space with our coming and going and using various kitchen tools, preparing food, walking about in the home, using the bathroom, sitting and rising (in the living room or bedroom), among so many other activities that are part of just being in our homes, means that safety is a huge concept that deserves our constant attention and focus. It’s as if dropping our guard or vigilance for just a moment can lead to a stumble, slip, cut, burn, or fall – all unpleasant and potentially dangerous.
Our homes are supposed to be our sanctuary, our safety net. When we return home after a day in the world, or when we remain home and don’t venture outside of it, it should provide its own measure of familiarity, comfort, convenience, peace-of-mind, and safety. We depend on our homes to do this, and as aging in place professionals we are charged with doing the same for our clients. They need this safety and security. It is foundational.
That’s why our focus on preventing injury – especially that resulting from falls – is so important for our aging in place clients. The older people get, the more serious a fall can become to them. When we are young, falls are not as dangerous because we are more flexible, our bones are stronger, and we tend to heal quicker. All of these aging changes create potential issues for us so keeping people upright and avoiding falls is a major area of emphasis for us.
There are some key areas in the home that deserve our attention for preventing falls. Let’s begin at the beginning – the entry. Getting into the home should not be treacherous. The walkways should provide safe, solid footing without any foreign matter or slipperiness of any type. There should be no steps to climb, but frequently there are. Therefore, we need to ensure that the steps are non-slip and that there are railings to hold onto while going up and down the steps. Once at the door, is there enough room to stand to the side of the door and open it without needing to move out of the way and possibly lose one’s balance in the process? Is there a covering over the stoop or landing, and is it large enough to provide protection from falling precipitation and prevent slipperiness from moisture accumulating on the flooring surface?
Once inside the dwelling, is the flooring solid (without looseness or weak spots) with no height difference between rooms or types of flooring? Is furniture far enough away from passageways to not interfere with people moving about in a room or between rooms? Coffee table are particularly problematic because they tend to be a height that cause people to bump into them at their knee or shin, and depending on how hard they contact the table are whether they maintain their balance, a fall can result.
Of course, doing anything in the bathroom can be quite risky. More injuries occur here than in any other room in the home – and more of them are serious here due to bathroom conditions. Unless the bathroom is particularly large, it’s almost impossible to slip and fall in the bathroom (no matter where one is standing at the time) without contacting a hard surface – tub or shower, sink, toliet, or tile floor. Add to this that floors often are slippery, we often aren’t paying attention to avoiding falls, and we frequently are wearing little to no clothing.
Then, there is sitting and rising that can present an issue . Seemingly simple, everday tasks such as sitting and getting up from a chair, using the toilet, or getting into or out of bed can lead to a person misjuding where they are sitting or slipping as they attempt to rise.
We have a lot we can do to help people remain safe in their homes, and taking responsibility, as aging in place professionals, to create safe environments is important.