One in four Americans age 65 years and older fall each year, and half of those falls link to home and environment factors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Most people don’t realize it, but your home is one of your greatest risk factors,” said Tonya Rupe, RN and Trauma Outreach and Injury Prevention Coordinator at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC). “We spend so much time in our house that we become accustomed to our environment. After a while, we don’t even see the things or areas that easily trip us up.”
Tonya has witnessed the pain caused by falls in the home through professional and personal experience. For example, Tonya’s aunt tripped over a beloved small dog who often scurried around the house. The fall broke her aunt’s hip and ultimately led to her death.
“That’s one reason why I’m working full-time to prevent disability and death before it happens,” Tonya said. “Falls are a serious problem. In fact, falls are the most common culprit for trauma patients who arrive at our hospital; second is car accidents.”
Reducing fall-related injuries and traumatic experiences starts at home, Tonya says. She recommends frequently assessing every room of the house – and yards and sidewalks too – to identify and then fix potential stumbling blocks.
Reduce falls by taking note of these five home hazards and simple repairs (please note: this is not a comprehensive list, but a jumping off point):
- Books, papers, shoes and other objects on the stairs – keep stairs clear
- Torn or loose carpet spots and rugs – create an even ground by removing rugs, repairing loose carpet and attaching non-slip rubber treads to the stairs
- Cluttered pathways – get help moving furniture and removing piles on the floor to create unobstructed paths from room to room
- Cords (whether from oxygen tanks, technology chargers, electric blankets or anything else) – do everything possible to remove cords from the floor
- Toilet troubles and slippery showers – toilet risers with handles and grab bars in showers can significantly increase safety
- Walking in the dark – have light switches installed near beds and on both ends of long hallways
- Fifi and Fido – know where small dogs and cats are whenever you’re walking around
- Baggy, long or large clothing and shoes – wear correctly fitting shoes and clothes; if your wardrobe doesn’t fit due to sudden weight loss or gain, see a physician
Home assessments open eyes, save lives
Tonya has served patients as a registered nurse for 20 years, spending several years caring for patients in their homes before joining EIRMC. With that experience, she recognizes the value of home assessments.
“I’ve been to homes and thought, ‘Well no wonder you fell. I could fall here too.’ Taking time to review the indoors and outdoors with an assessment can make a major difference in the length and quality of life for people. It’s really important,” Tonya said.
Physicians can request that physical therapists, occupational therapists or home health specialists come to the home and perform an in-depth, in-person fall risk home evaluation.
If a person experiences a fall or traumatic injury with the following signs/symptoms, visit the EIRMC ER, which is equipped 24/7 with trauma care, orthopedics, and neurosurgery.
- Mild to moderate pain that was not present before;
- Swelling or bruising; felt something "pop"
- Dislocated joint
- Laceration that is not significantly large or deep and that is no longer bleeding, but may need stitches.
Call 911 immediately for an unstable, possibly severely injured person:
- The fall was from a significant height
- If the person takes blood thinners and hits their head
- Possible head injury (signs may include nausea, vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness, confusion, poor skin color)
- Suspected spinal cord injury
- Sudden inability to move
- Bleeding that does not stop with direct pressure
- A laceration that is large, deep or involved with the head, chest or abdomen
- Sudden pain in pelvis/hip
- Open fracture (can see a bone)
- Changes to level of consciousness
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain/pressure