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Staying Safe at Home

Michele Lerner

Home sweet home is where most people feel safest, but research shows that danger lurks even in the most innocuous of places. Injuries from accidents in the home range from minor irritations such as bruises or cuts, to broken limbs, to … worse.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), falling is the top cause of injury-related death among adults ages 65 and older. Of course, you can fall anywhere, but the NSC says these falls most often occur at home.

Fortunately, there are actions you can take to reduce your chances of falling, and to prevent other common home injuries such as accidental poisoning and kitchen mishaps.

Preventing Falls at Home

If you’ve ever tripped or twisted your ankle on the dance floor, you know how painful and aggravating even a so-called minor injury can be. Two groups that are particularly prone to falling are children under age five and adults over age 70.

For older people, there are a variety of underlying causes for falling, including medications that cause dizziness, vision problems, muscle weakness, foot problems or wearing the wrong shoes, and poor lighting. The good news is that many of these problems can be addressed proactively at home.

Declutter. Tour your home with the mission of identifying potential areas where you could trip or slip. You can remove throw rugs or add a non-slip backing to them. Move pet gear away from walkways. Hide or tape down electrical cords. Remove unnecessary small furniture items, and make sure you have plenty of space to walk around your furniture.

Secure your stairs and bathrooms. Among the most common places in your home to slip and fall are your bathroom and your staircases. On stairs, you can install railings on both sides to make it easier to hold on when going up or down. You can also put non-slip adhesive strips on stairs or paint the treads a different color to make them stand out against the landings. Quickly wiping up water in the bathroom can help you avoid slipping on the floor. You can add non-skid mats and appliques in your bathtub and shower, and add grab bars to your tub and shower and to walls nearby.

Improve lighting. Bright lights increase visibility, making it less likely that you’ll trip over something, but it’s also important to have a balance of light so you aren’t momentarily disoriented by going from darkness to light or vice versa. Night-lights in your kitchen, bathroom, and hallways can help with these transitions. Plug-in night-lights can be placed in outlets to provide a pathway from your bedroom to your bathroom and kitchen. Adequate lighting on your stairway and outdoors, such as around your front door and patio, is also important.

Clear your path outdoors. Keeping your entrances and walkways clear of ice, snow, and wet leaves can help prevent slipping, but you need to be careful if you take on this task yourself, so you don’t injure yourself in the interest of avoiding a fall. Consider hiring someone to care for this essential home maintenance.

Visit the doctor. Check with your doctor to find out if any of the medications you take have the potential to make you dizzy or lightheaded, and ask if it’s possible to switch to a different one if this is a concern. Your doctor can also evaluate you to see if you are at risk for falls and make suggestions. Some doctors recommend increasing your intake of Vitamin D to aid your muscle and bone strength.

Check with your eye doctor. An annual visit to the eye doctor is also essential to make sure your prescription is up-to-date and to find out if you need any adjustments (or glasses, if you don’t already wear them). Have your doctor carefully check your distance vision, as well as your near vision and be sure you understand when to wear your glasses. If you wear progressives or bifocal lenses, know that they can affect your distance and depth perception.

Exercise to improve your balance. Exercises that strengthen your legs and core can also improve your balance. One daily five-minute balance exercise can help reduce the chances of falling. Tai Chi is another good way to improve your balance. A study in the Journals of Gerontology found that physically inactive older adults who did Tai Chi three times per week, over a six-month period, decreased the risk of multiple falls by 55% when compared to a control group who only did stretching.

Kitchen Tweaks and Safety Tips

Kitchen safety includes careful handling of knives and rearranging items to make sure that cooking and clean-up are easily accomplished.

Simple kitchen modifications. While you may not be ready to completely redesign your kitchen with a more easily accessible oven or new counter heights, you can rearrange the items that you use most often to make them more easily available. If you like to bake or drink tea daily, move those supplies to a shelf where you can reach them without standing on a stool. Swapping knobs for levers can make it easier to open drawers and cabinets, so you’re less likely to injure yourself when straining to open something. You can pick up levers at your local home improvement store and switch them yourself, or hire a handyman, if you prefer.

Knife safety. Interestingly, you’re better off using sharp knives than dull ones, in order to help avoid hurting yourself. According to WebMd, dull knives require more pressure and can cause your hand to slip. Pay attention while cutting so you don’t get distracted, and don’t try to catch a knife if you drop it by accident. Store your knives in a knife block rather than in a drawer where you could accidentally cut a finger when reaching for one.

Avoiding Other Common Household Accidents

Poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Poison deaths can be caused by swallowing or inhaling substances such as pesticides or cleaning chemicals. Overdoses of prescription and illegal drugs are classified as poisoning, which is why poisoning ranks so high on the list of causes of death. Keeping track of your medications is essential for your own safety, as well as for visitors to your home, particularly young children.

Some incidents of poisoning occur from mistaking one substance for another, such as picking up a bottle of water only to realize the bottle contains a toxic cleaning supply. Always read labels before you ingest anything, follow the directions on products in your home, and be particularly careful to avoid mixing bleach and ammonia.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur from an improperly vented heater, stove, or fireplace, or from running an engine or using a barbecue in a garage, where air can’t escape and the gas builds. You can install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in your home yourself, or you can hire a handyman to install them for you. It’s recommended to install them on every level of your home and in sleeping areas.

While smoke alarms are required in newer homes, a 2014 National Fire Protection Association report says that 23% of fire-related deaths occurred in homes where alarms were present but not functioning. You should have a smoke alarm on each level of your home and near sleeping areas. Fire departments recommend changing the battery when the time changes each fall and spring.

One of the keys to aging well in place is to be sure that your home environment is a safe one. Pay attention to how your needs — and/or balance! — are changing and make appropriate accommodations. An annual or even quarterly check of your home’s alarm systems, lighting, and cleaning supplies doesn’t take long, but can prevent some of the most common incidents that could cause injury or worse to you or to visitors to your home.

READ MORE: Don’t Get Caught Without a Fire Extinguisher

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