September is National Falls Prevention Month, to coincide with the beginning of the fall season. The season is not related to falling except by name, but this is a good time to explore falls and fall prevention, although falls cannot be totally prevented. Saying that we can eliminate falls is a little beyond our power although we can do a lot to lessen their occurrence and severity.
Every day is a good day to focus on home safety and doing all we can to prevent falls or minimize their impact. Falls can be scary – depending on their severity. What happens afterward can be even more serious. It’s nice to have a month that calls our attention to the importance of this major home safety issue, but it deserves our attention every day – in our own homes, those of our family members and friends, and those of our existing and potential clients.
Let’s say that we went through our own homes and picked up everything that was on the floor, table, or anyplace out it the open and we put them away – where they belong or we found a new place they could stay. Then, we took our experience on the road and began doing the same for our clients. This is a huge first step. Unfortunately, it may not be enough. Falls will still happen.
We have the ability to remove foreign objects from places where they aren’t supposed to be – books, papers, boxes, shopping bags (full or empty, paper, plastic, or fabric), clothing, shoes, jackets, hats, tools, small furniture, mail, magazines, unprepared food on its way to the pantry or kitchen, and several other possible household or apparel items.
Once we have done this, we can be satisfied that no one will trip over an object that in the path of travel. What we have a much harder time doing is preparing the pathway itself. If there are seams between flooring types or just to butt two sections of the same flooring itself, or a raised threshold, molding strip, or transition, we can resolve this with a little effort. New flooring, reinforcing or replacing the subfloor, and certainly eliminating the raised transitions will be helpful, albeit not necessarily inexpensive or easy to do.
When people use a wheeled device such as a wheelchair or walker, any change in the flooring height or surface can interrupt or retard their movement. When people shuffle their feet or don’t pick them up very well when they walk or step, they can stub their toe or catch the heel of their shoe. All of these concerns factor into eliminating situations that can cause falls in the home – for occupants or visitors and guests.
Here is the frustrating thing about falls. As careful as we are in trying to monitor the home to eliminate any obvious potential issues, falls can still happen. They are part of being human. Unless a person stayed in bed the entire day, they would be subject to a potential fall. Even then, they could conceivably roll out of bed or lose their balance when they sat up.
Two factors that affect the safety of people within and about their homes, in addition to removing the obvious hazards already discussed, are their balance and their vision. Other aspects such as nutrition, hydration, and fatigue or amount of sleep combine with these principal factors.
We say that we lose our balance when we go to do something and list to one side, misstep, get momentarily dizzy, or reach out to a nearby object or wall for additional support. Now, for an older person, they may not have the presence of mind or the reaction speed to be able to catch themselves before actually falling. They can be almost stationary or just taking a step when it can happen. It doesn’t have to be the result of some activity.
If someone’s vision is decreasing, they could walk into or bump into an object because they perceived it to be farther way than it was or they just didn’t see it there. They might attempt to sit in a chair or on the edge of their bed and misjudge how far down the seat is or where and end up sitting on the floor. When rising from the bed, they might misjudge where the floor is and misstep and then tumble.
Even putting on or removing clothing can tangle our legs and feet or obscure our vision and create issues.
An emphasis on fall prevention is essential for aging in place professionals, but we can’t be with our clients all the time. Things happen. All we can do is plan for the obvious and take into consideration some of the accidents that could happen and soften the impact of those. Falls are tricky and in reality cannot be eliminated entirely.