If you prefer to age at home instead of a care facility, preventing falls needs to be a top priority. Older adults who fall frequently suffer injuries that leave them disabled and unable to live independently. Even when it doesn’t end in injury, a fall often marks the beginning of a slow decline in physical ability and quality of life.
Falling isn’t inevitable as you age. There’s a lot you can do to prevent falls, even into your 80s and 90s. Here’s where to start:
Step 1: Modify Your Home
Aging-in-place home modifications should start before falling becomes an imminent risk. In your 50s and 60s, meet with home improvement contractors to determine if remodeling your current home is feasible or if you’re better served by moving to a new home. While any home can be remodeled for aging-in-place, sometimes moving is more cost-effective. When remodeling a home for aging-in-place, focus on these areas:
● Entrances: A senior’s home should have at least one step-free entrance. Staired entries can be remodeled without unsightly modular ramps by building a sloped walkway. The entrance should also be covered with ample lighting and levered door hardware.
● Bathrooms: Slick floors aren’t the only hazard in bathrooms. Seniors can fall when using a toilet that’s too low or trip getting in or out of the shower. A degree of safety can be added by refinishing tubs and installing grab bars (available for $12.98), but the ideal solution is a full remodel including non-slip flooring and a zero-entry shower with built-in bench.
● Kitchens: Kitchens are generally not dangerous, with the exception of flooring. If you have kitchen floors that become slick when wet, replace them with non-slip flooring. If you need help with any of these modifications, consider finding a handyman contractor in your area. A handyman in St. Petersburg is likely to charge between $179 and $584, depending on the scope of the project.
In addition to big remodeling projects, address throw rugs, loose cords, low furniture, and other trip hazards around the home. Simply decluttering and organizing can have a big impact on home safety. Unfortunately, you’ll need to find ways to pay for grab bars and other modifications yourself, as Medicare won’t cover the cost. However, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, such as those offered by UnitedHealthcare, grab bars may be covered. If not, Original Medicare will cover durable medical equipment such as canes or walkers if you meet certain criteria.
Step 2: Improve Your Health
A safe home compensates for normal age-related changes, but it can’t eliminate fall risk due to poor health. Maintaining your physical health is the most important thing you can do to prevent falls at home and in the community.
● Exercise: All seniors need regular strength and balance training. Exercise not only improves balance and range of motion, but it also builds bone density to make your body more resilient against falls.
● Vision: Vision changes come with age. There’s no point denying it, so adapt. In addition to wearing glasses as prescribed and scheduling eye health screenings, increase lighting throughout your home to maximize your vision.
● Healthy habits: Overall health also influences fall risk and recovery following a fall. Maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, sleep well, and stay hydrated to reduce instability and dizziness. Manage medical conditions as indicated by your doctor and mind the side effects of medications you take.
Step 3: Have an Emergency Plan
Even with the best precautions, accidents can happen. Make sure you’re prepared in the event of a fall by installing a medical alert system in your home or wearing a mobile medical alert device.
If you do fall, call for assistance even if you think you’re unhurt. Not all fall injuries are immediately apparent. A doctor can assess you for injuries related to the fall and discuss what contributed to the fall and how you can prevent falls in the future.
It’s possible to live a fall-free life as a senior. However, it doesn’t happen through luck alone. If you want to prevent falls and protect your independence as you age, you need to be proactive about it. Start preparing your home and taking other fall-prevention measures so you enjoy the golden years the way you want to.