Charlie Chaplin perfected the art of falling on his rear in his classic silent films. His slip-on-the-banana-peel bit first appeared in 1915 in the movie “By the Sea.” Since then, it has become a classic shtick emulated by other actors throughout the years. It’s a funny piece of slapstick, and we laugh together as The Tramp tosses down the peel and promptly slips across it with his feet swooshing out from under him. Flat on his back, we know he’ll be back up and on the move again in less than a second.
Chaplin had several advantages when he made his famous fall: he was young, and he was prepared. Unfortunately, most falls in life are not planned and can lead to injury, and are increasingly serious as we age. In fact, falls are one of the more common reasons that elders land in the hospital.
Per the National council on Aging, “One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.”
The irony of life is that just as our bones and muscles become less able to heal from injury, our senses begin to run amuck in helping us remain upright. Our center of gravity doesn’t adjust as quickly as it used to, and our vision and hearing aren’t as keen was they once were. So, falling is definitely something we need help avoiding as we get older!
The very good news is that there are actions and precautions you can take to make your home more fall-proof. By assessing and recognizing your mobility issues and addressing the following three essentials, you have several things to do that are within your control:
1. Clear the clutter. Whether your style is tidy or more packrat, now is the time to join the minimalist bandwagon and reduce anything in your path that you don’t need. Clutter is the #1 hazard that often leads to falls.
- Remove anything that blocks your hallways, stairs, and along the entryways from one room to another. Don’t leave books, paper, clothes or shoes in any of your walking areas.
- Remove throw rugs and small rugs. If you want rugs at the foot of your kitchen or bathroom sink, make sure they are non-skid mats.
- Secure larger area rugs with adhesive to prevent rolled corners.
- Organize, wrap up, and pin back electrical cords so they are out of the way.
- Make sure furnishings are cleared from paths.
- Get in the declutter groove. You think your life is set and there are no new chapters? Think again! Take on the project of reducing your stuff, and enjoy the renewal and a new look at the world in the process.
You can start by assessing the photos, books, and other objects in your home and considering what you need and what could serve someone else. You might find it’s much easier to let things go if you know they are going to good homes where they’ll be of use.
Tell the stories in the family photos and heirlooms by giving them to others in the family. Find local services that can use the books and furnishings you no longer need in your space. Check out resources to assist seniors where you live, or work with an advocate who can help you find the right support, or hire a pro to guide you in the project through internet searches such as Find My Organizer.
2. Apply good lighting. You know soft lighting sets the ambiance for a romantic moment, but when it comes to lighting your way in your home, brighter is better.
- Make sure the stairs and entryways to rooms are lit well so you can see where you’re going.
- Install light switches at both the top and the bottom of your stairs.
- Use nightlights in your bedroom and keep a flashlight handy by your bed.
- Make certain the entrances to your home are free of structural damage, and be sure to have motion-sensing lighting installed.
3. Keep spaces designed age-appropriate. Look at everything you’re using in your home and ask, “How can this hurt or help me?” Is the comfy chair one I can get into and out of easily? Are the things I use most within easy reach? As you work to remain mobile and independent, it is vital to look critically at your space and all the things you use in order to be certain they are ergonomically useful and practically placed.
- Assess furniture and fixtures such as toilets and counter tops to be sure they are the right height.
- Mount grab bars near your toilets, and both inside and outside your shower. Make sure the railings for your stairs are sturdy and useful. Consider installing double railings where possible.
- When the tasks are more involved than your skillsets, utilize an accredited aging in place handyman to install flooring, upgrade electrical and plumbing fixtures, and make sure railings and other built-ins are securely anchored. Get an assessment done by a pro to help you see what you’re missing.
Most people find that, as they age, remaining at home is both a comfort and a cost-effective lifestyle choice. But in order for it to work well and for the long-term, you have to take control of the things within your control such as how your house is set up. By being proactive about your aging-in-place plan, your house can remain your home sweet home forever.