How to Prevent a Fall At Home

August 24, 2023
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What to Avoid

Half of optimizing your home for aging in place is knowing what to add — the other half is knowing what to watch out for.

Overlooking seemingly small details can quickly lead to a fall: how thick your carpeting is, how high up your washing machine is placed, how deep your couches and chairs are. While there are dozens of traps to avoid, we’ve compiled the most common pitfalls to look out for below.

Thick Door Thresholds, Sills, and Weather Strips

Most homes have door thresholds everywhere there is a door: bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens. 

These raised strips are typically made of wood or metal and run across the bottom of a door frame. They serve many purposes: insulating the room from noise, maintaining the temperature of the room, and enhancing the look and feel of a space by making the transition from one space to another “blend”.

But none of these benefits outweigh the cons for older adults: thresholds are a common cause of falls. They’re often difficult to see and very easy to accidentally trip over. It’s best to remove them from your home.

Deep Carpeting and Varied Flooring in Different Rooms

Many imagine carpeting will be softer in the event of a fall, but it’s more likely to cause a fall — thick carpeting in particular is a common trip hazard. If you’re set on carpeting, choose a short pile carpet that’s smooth, and even. Area rugs should be avoided.

Flooring should be consistent throughout the entire home to avoid uneven transitions from one surface to another. If you’re going to use different flooring surfaces across rooms, practice the transition from one room to another to make sure the change in surfaces isn’t too significant or uneven.

Having Appliances in Hard-to-Reach Places

When it comes to appliances — the washer and dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher — it’s essential that they’re somewhere easily accessible, and that opening and closing them isn’t too heavy.

Check to make sure no bending or lifting is required to use them, whether in turning them on or off or taking clothes or dishes in or out. Practice opening and closing the door to see if it causes a strain, either due to incorrect placement or a door that’s too heavy.

No matter what, you should never stand on a chair to reach something. You’ll want to have a good step stool like this model from DMI handy in case something is out of reach.

Making Your Space Too Dark or Too Bright

As we age, we need more light to compensate for age-related changes to the visual system, but it can be a balancing act between too dark and too bright.

When you install new bulbs, test the light to make sure there aren’t areas with a glare or where it would be difficult to spot liquid (oil, grease, water).

More often than not, the issue is that a space doesn’t have enough light, so you’ll need to upgrade to higher wattage bulbs (and add additional lighting in hard-to-see places like closets and cabinets). Make sure to never exceed the maximum amount of wattage for your particular switch.

Clutter and Loose Electronic Cords

If there’s ever a time to become an organizational maven, it’s when you’re aging in place. Ill-placed electronic chargers and cords are easy to trip over, and having loose objects on the ground increases the risk of a fall.

Having disorganized cabinets and drawers is dangerous, too: they lead to more time spent rummaging, which often include bending down or standing up on a stool to find what you need. 

We recommend getting devices like cord organizers and pull-out cabinet drawers to make organization easier.

Couches and Chairs That Are Too Deep

While it can feel good to curl up in a well-worn sofa or armchair, they’re not the best for older adults — they take significantly more balance and stability to get in and out of. Instead, opt for firm-enough, not-too-deep living and bedroom furniture that you feel comfortable in and can lift out of easily.

Leaving Stairs Unmodified

No matter how mobile you are at the moment, it’s a mistake to leave your stairs completely as they are if you’re aging in place. While you might not need a stair lift, you should have some additional support added to your stairs; at minimum, add a stable, strong stair railing and non-slip stair treads. Even stairs with only a few steps increase the risk of a fall, so it’s better to be overly cautious when setting up your space.

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