A fall can’t always be blamed on personal health issues. Have you ever been walking along minding your own business, when for no apparent reason you stumble, slip or trip over something? Of course there was a reason, but it wasn’t something that grabbed you attention and warned you to be careful. It could have been a rough patch on a sidewalk, grease or food spilled on the floor, a misplaced throw rug, or maybe you just tripped over your own feet. Slips, trips and falls happen every day. You can slip if there isn’t enough traction between your foot and the surface you are walking on. A water spill, food or grease on the floor, or a loose unanchored mat may be all it takes to land you in the hospital. A trip is a little different. Your foot hits against an object that probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. It doesn’t take much to cause a momentary loss of balance. Different words but the same result. You may laugh and feel dumb for not paying attention but a stumble, a slip, or a fall is not a laughing matter.
Falls that occur from other than medical reasons are lumped under the category of “extrinsic factors.” Extrinsic factors are the things that affect your ability to move around safely, but don’t have anything to do with your health. Common culprits are throw rugs, unsecured bath mats, clutter, and poor lighting. Another common mistake is not having something to grab if you lose your balance. For example, a shower curtain or a towel bar will not support your weight no matter how reassuring they may seem.
People tend to ignores things that are right in front of their noses. It is hard to be objective about your own home. It is never a bad idea to have a physical or occupational therapist come to your house to make recommendations. An outsider can quickly see what you do not, and can recommend quick and inexpensive ways safety proof your home. It is easier to eliminate these extrinsic risk factors than you might imagine. Let’s look at a few trouble areas, just so you know what I am talking about.
- Eliminate doorway thresholds and scatter rugs. Remove clutter, consider railings along stairways (indoors and out) and have wooden stairs carpeted or fitted with non-skid treads. Good indoor and outdoor lighting is a must. Decide if a ramp or a stair lift would make life easier for you.
- Remove high-pile or shag rugs. I shouldn’t have to tell you that throw rugs that slide across the floor are a major hazard. If you really need throw rugs they should be tightly woven and secured to the floor with nonslip adhesive tape. If you shop around you can find non-skid throw rugs and slip resistant mats, and while you are at it, ask for recommendations about carpeting that is walker or wheelchair friendly.
- Pay attention to the ground when you are walking outside, especially if the area isn’t familiar to you. Rain, snow, ice, or leaves hide rough patches and/or make surfaces extra slippery.
Safety-proof your home before a stumble, a slip, or a fall takes the decision out of your hands. If you think I am over reacting I want you to take a look around your house right now, and then tell me that there aren’t at least six trouble spots waiting to trip you up.