Avoiding slips and falls

Expert offers safety tips for preventing falls around the home

-Messenger photo by Dawn Bliss
Jayne Kolacia, left, a physcial therapist and supervisor of out-patient rehabilitation services for UnityPoint Health, talks with Mary Shaull, a therapy tech, about the importance of daily doing chores, such as folding towels, on a table or surface that is between waist and shoulder height. This keeps people from reaching or bending over and knocking themselves off-balance.

Editor’s note: This story was initially published in The Messenger on March 10, 2016.

With warmer weather and longer days on the way, people may be tempted to get busy and clear the winter blues from their homes.

However, experts advise exercising a bit of caution to prevent debilitating falls if people give into the urge to Spring clean and begin moving more about the house.

Toppling from a step ladder or tripping over a lose item on the floor can cause more than simple skinned knees and a bruised ego, said Jayne Kolacia, physical therapist and supervisor of out-patient rehabilitation for UnityPoint Health in Fort Dodge.

“A fall can result in fractures and soft tissue injuries that may or may not require surgical intervention,” she said. “It can slow a person’s activity level and that can spiral into them becoming weaker.”

-Messenger photo by Dawn Bliss
Extension cords are one of the two more common causes of falls in the home, experts said. Simple steps to improve household safety are to tack down or otherwise secure floor rugs, and then bundle up and secure extension cords so they are not laying out across the floor.

And the likelihood people will lose their footing increases as they get older, Kolacia said.

“We have an elevated risk as we age because generally we grow weaker in our balance and flexibility,” she said. “Our reflexes slow, and our overall response time is slower. Our vision can play a part, too. We don’t see things as clearly as we used to.”

However, people can compensate for this progressive challenge to their equilibrium by following a few safety tips and organizational suggestions.

Simple acts such as pulling up loose throw rugs and tiding extension cords so they don’t snake out across the floor can reduce the possibility of tripping and slipping, Kolacia said.

Good footwear with tread and rubber soles can also help prevent slips while good lighting on stairs and in bedrooms can help avert stumbling and tripping.

“A high number of falls occur at night,” Kolacia said. “Night lights can help, or keep a small lamp near the bed.”

If people use a step stool to dust and reach high places, the stool should be a model with a handle and a large platform for standing on, she said.

Also, if they’re cleaning and washing windows, they need to watch for spills or drips that leave a wet spot that can slip them up.

Yet another way to reduce the risk of falling is to store items consistently used in daily tasks at a level that is waist to shoulder height, Kolacia said.

This limits stretching and reaching which can cause a person to lean off-balance. An example would be folding towels on a table top rather than leaning over to pull them from a basket on the floor.

“And make sure the stairs are clear,” Kolacia said. “Sometimes they’re a collection point.”

Also, check the handrails on those steps to be sure the rails are solidly secured should someone need to grab them to right themselves, she said.

Other additions that can help improve safety around the house include grab bars and handrails in the bathroom near the shower and the toilet.

Non-slip mats in the shower and bathtub are a wise investment, she added, and a raised toilet seat benefits someone with balance issues since it is physically easier to rise from a higher level.

Another tip that applies to both inside and outside is to keep pathways clear.

In the home, keep items off the floor and out of the high traffic routes. In the yard, make sure sidewalks and pathways are clear of snow and ice. When the weather clears such obstacles, people still need to be cautious.

“After a season of freezing and thawing, sidewalks can crack and be uneven,” Kolacia said. “People should their increase awareness and watch out when walking their neighborhood.”

Moderating activity and tackling tasks and chores in pieces rather than taking them on all at once can also help prevent falls, she said.

If people spend a lot of time working on a project it can fatigue them and wear them out, increasing their chances of falling, Kolacia said.

This loss of energy can happen quicker than they may realize if they have been sluggish or immobile during the winter months then suddenly jump into being active.

People can increase their stamina, balance and strength by walking and exercising, Kolacia said.

In fact, exercise can improve flexibility, as well, and help offset risks of falling. People should consult their health care provider for advice on what activities are appropriate for them. A physical therapy referral is possible if people need more information.