Remaining safe in our homes is key to aging in place well. Regardless of what our level of fitness or mobility might be or any physical impairments that might be limiting our activity, being free of accidental injury in our homes is something we depend upon. After all, our homes are supposed to be our sanctuary – a safe place where we can stay or return to escape life’s challenges that come our way from being out in the world.
We don’t expect that our homes are going to be unkind toward us and cause us injury. We fully expect to remain safe, and it’s this over-confidence that can cause us to drop our guard and do something careless like walking into a door by being distracted in thought or not looking carefully enough at where we were going, cutting our hand while opening a can or jar when not watching what we were doing, dropping a heavy object onto our foot or having something drop on us from a shelf or piece of furniture when we weren’t paying attention to this possibility, or tripping over any number of objects that might be in our path when we weren’t looking out for them.
Accidents happen – that’s why they are called accidents. We don’t intentionally seek harm to ourselves, but we can create situations in our homes that make remaining safe in them more challenging. Regardless of why they are there, when we have objects lying about on the floor (clothing, shoes, books, or boxes for instance), they can become tripping hazards as we make contact with them or misstep as we attempt to avoid them. Glare from light (artificial or natural) striking shiny or glossy surfaces (such as windows, mirrors, TV or computer screens, counters, appliances, or hard-surface flooring) can affect our vision or depth perception and can cause us to walk into something that we didn’t see or was temporarily obscured from us.
When we reach higher than is comfortable for plates, glassware, foodstuffs, or other objects in cabinets, or the pantry, on open shelves, in appliances such as refrigerators, or even in closets, we risk straining a muscle, losing our balance and falling, or having an object that we were attempting to retrieve fall on us. Standing on a stool or chair – while seeming like a good idea at the moment – can make matters worse.
We can fall by misjudging where a chair or the edge of the bed is when we are attempting to sit – or similarly when we rise too quickly and slip or become light-headed.
None of want to be injured at home, and part of our role as aging in place specialists is to inspect the home, anticipate how mistakes can happen, eliminate as many as possible, create safer solutions for our clients, and educate our clients about the conscientious safe use of their space.
This certainly applies to the bathroom, and this month, January, is “National Bath Safety Month.” The CDC (Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention) reports that nearly one-quarter of a million people annually (234,000) are injured in their bathroom to where they seek help at their local hospital emergency room. The bathroom is a very dangerous place to be.
Starting off the year by focusing on bathroom safety is quite appropriate because safety is such a vital aspect of aging in place and enjoying our forever homes that we want it to be our minds throughout the year, Thus, we are starting to pay attention to this vital issue on day one of the new year.
Bathrooms are problematic, and thus more injurious to people than other areas of the home due to their characteristics. First, nearly every surface in the bathroom is hard and unforgiving when contacted during a fall – the sink, the toilet, the tub or shower curb, and the tile floor. Second, the floor is often wet and slippery, particularly when barefoot or wearing just socks, slippers, or flip-flops. Third, bathrooms, except for large master baths designed to be spacious, are small and compact. Fourth, we often are wearing little to no clothing when in the bathroom – rising from sleep, getting ready for bed, or showering or bathing.
Any of these factors is enough in itself to cause alarm to potential injury in the bathroom. Taken collectively, and it’s a wonder there aren’t more slips, falls, and potentially serious injuries in the bathroom. We have to be diligent. When falls do happen in the bathroom, given the conditions that often are present, the results can be quite serious – head injuries (traumatic brain injury or TBI), broken bones (such as a hip, wrist, forearm, or lower leg fracture), or dislocations (such as a knee).
Two good preventive measures that can be taken by us as aging in place professionals are (1) evaluate floor treatments that can be implemented in the bathroom (flooring replacement or a coating) to reduce the slipperiness of the flooring and increase the coefficient of friction and (2) install a relatively short vertical grab bar near the entrance to the tub or shower for people to get in the habit of using each time they enter or exit the bathing area (some people will need the extra support all the time, some occasionally, and anyone can benefit when they begin to slip).
Let’s do our part to give our clients a safer bathroom experience!