This handy checklist can make your home safer
by Laura Casto
October 4, 2016

In 2013, the number of people age 65 and older totaled 44.7 million. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that number will double by 2060 to 98 million seniors. Consequently, demand for quality fall prevention products and education has significantly increased. Manufacturers are tasked with determining where and how these falls are occurring, and then working to present consumers with innovative solutions to prevent future falls.

The bathroom remains one of the most hazardous rooms in the home for seniors. More than 200,000 people are injured in bathroom accidents annually, and that number is slowly increasing as baby boomers get older. Many consumers make the mistake of using the glass shower door, towel rack or shower curtain for assistance when entering and exiting the bathing area; however, these items are not designed to support much weight.

Reducing these types of risky behaviors starts with proper education. Manufacturers, medical professionals and caretakers must place extra emphasis on educating consumers about what products are essential to preventing falls, how to use them and how to avoid dangerous situations. For example, educating seniors on how to safely get in and out of the bathtub or shower and equipping their homes with necessary safety precautions can greatly reduce the potential for a fall.

To prevent falls in the bathroom, seniors should have the following essentials on hand:

  • Nonslip rubber mats in front of the sink, toilet and shower or tub
  • Grab bars inside and outside of shower or bath
  • Toilet safety frame or raised toilet seat with arms
  • Bright, easily accessible lights

The risk of falling increases as we age. This is the result of normal changes that come with aging, as well as medical conditions such as arthritis, vision problems, high blood pressure or even as a side effect of medications. One of the most effective ways to preserve healthy balance is to stay active with an exercise regimen designed to improve balance, stability and overall mobility, such as yoga and walking activities.

Many patients, especially those holding on to their independence, are embarrassed about their need for fall prevention products. Other patients are put off by the clinical appearance of items. For this reason, many manufacturers are developing traditional fall prevention products such as canes, walkers and grab bars, but introducing more contemporary design elements to the products. Designed with style in mind, there is less stigma and embarrassment associated with these products.

Once the consumer has purchased suitable fall prevention products, they also need to know how to properly use them. Because caregivers purchasing products for their loved ones predominantly shop this category, many manufacturers have updated their packaging with marketing that targets the caregiver as opposed to the patient.

Many caregivers are often overworked and overburdened with their day-to-day duties and find themselves struggling to make the right decisions for their loved ones. With clear packaging demonstrating the product in use and in-store educational resources, manufacturers ensure customers are choosing the right product the first time.

The best fall prevention products seem to have three traits in common: patient weight capacity, ease-of-use and assembly and portability. Caregivers, manufacturers and retailers alike should ensure that fall prevention products always meet the following standards:

  • Patient weight capacity—Make sure the item will adequately support the patient’s full weight when needed. All adaptive equipment must be appropriately fit to the customer.
  • Ease of use and assembly—Look for tool-free designs that are easy to assemble and install, as well as quick-start guides that feature easy-to-follow instructions.
  • Portability—Baby boomers are looking to remain active and also travel in their golden years. Choose items that can be used at home or on the go.

It is also helpful to keep in mind that most falls occur in the home. Consumers can prevent falls at home by following these simple steps:

  • Fasten any loose rugs firmly to the floor or ensure they have nonslip backing.
  • Move electrical cords and telephone wires so they are not in walking areas where one can trip on them.
  • Install handrails or suction-cup grab bars in the bathroom, inside and outside of shower/bath and on either side of the toilet. These are much stronger than towel racks, which are not meant to support weight. Or consider a toilet safety frame around the toilet or a raised toilet seat.
  • If having difficulty getting in and out of the shower or bathtub, consider using a transfer bench.
  • A shower chair can provide stability for someone with difficulty balancing and a resting place for those who have difficulty standing for long periods of time. A good shower chair has rubber tips on the legs to prevent sliding. When used with a handheld showerhead, the user can remain seated while bathing.
  • Put a rubber suction mat or nonslip stickers in the tub or shower.
  • Place nonskid mats or carpet on all surfaces that may get wet, such as in front of the sink and toilet.
  • Install handrails on both sides of the stairs for extra support.
  • Reorganize the home, placing everyday items accessible and within easy reach. Avoid placing anything too high or even too low.
  • Install night lights in the bedroom, hallways and bathrooms, and make sure bright lights are easily accessible. A poorly lit pathway can easily cause a fall.
  • Always wear shoes with firm nonskid, nonfriction soles. Although slippers may be comfortable to wear in the house, they can also cause a trip, slip or fall.
  • When waking in the morning or even getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, patients should try to get into the habit of sitting at the edge of the bed for a few moments to allow their blood pressure to adjust before standing up.Getting up too quickly could cause dizziness, throw off balance and possibly cause a fall.

How can active seniors and their caregivers prevent falls in public? There are many products that can help older adults continue an active lifestyle. Many manufacturers have developed innovative ways to provide consumers the independence they crave, while keeping them safe. For instance, Roscoe Medical has partnered with an inventor, Lesli Jenkins Wang, to introduce the Free2Go Rollator, which combines the benefits of the rolling walker (“rollator”) with a toilet safety product, allowing one to safely, confidently and discreetly use a toilet in any restroom.

The Free2Go Rollator addresses a common problem that many seniors face when using a public restroom where the toilet is positioned too low or does not offer the support needed when sitting or lifting. There is a common misconception in the marketplace that ADA-compliant toilets address all the concerns of every individual with reduced mobility; however, this is not the case. ADA-compliant restrooms are often designed for someone transferring from a wheelchair, not for those using a walking aid. There was an obvious gap in the HME/DME industry, and the Free2Go Rollator addresses this gap and promotes independence.

Although preventing falls is a vital aspect of properly caring for aging seniors, it is also imperative that individuals receive proper education about how to proceed in the unfortunate event that a fall has already taken place. Reacting properly to a fall can be the difference between a serious fall and a less serious one, and helps to decrease any physical and psychological consequences. Proper reaction enables a person to regain their confidence quickly, and to continue to be as independent as possible. Practicing some simple steps with your loved one can really make a difference.

When a fall occurs, try to remain calm. If there is no pain or discomfort, then try to get up, keeping the following steps in mind:

  • Lie on your side, bend the leg that is on top and lift yourself onto your elbows or hands.
  • Pull yourself toward an armchair or other sturdy object, and then kneel while placing both hands on the chair or object.
  • Place your stronger leg in front, holding on to the chair or object.
  • Stand up.
  • Very carefully, turn and sit down. If there is any discomfort or you are unable to get up, try to get someone to help.
  • Call out for help if you think you can be heard.
  • If you have an emergency call device or telephone at hand, use it.
  • If you do not, try to slide yourself toward a telephone or a place where you will be heard.
  • Make noise with your cane or another object to attract attention.
  • Wait for help in the most comfortable position for you.
  • Try to move your joints to ease circulation and prevent stiffness.

When a senior experiences a fall in their bathroom, around their home or in public they should always be sure to notify their doctors. Statistics show that less than half of older people who fall tell their doctor, usually due to embarrassment or from fear of losing their independence. This habit is dangerous because, if left untreated, the impact of a fall could lead to other serious health problems.