Household slips and falls are most common in the bathroom. For older persons, such a fall may be devastating, resulting in a broken arm, wrist or hip. Half of those who suffer a hip fracture are never able to live independently again and one victim in five dies within a year. The good news is that falls can be prevented.
"As we age, we want to stay in our own homes and be as independent as possible," states Jo Boehme, an occupational therapist at Bartlett Regional Hospital. "One of our goals is to help people maintain their safety and function in the home."
Planning ahead is key to fall prevention. Boehme suggests, "Think, what can I do now to eliminate the chance of slipping and falling? Anticipate getting more frail and make changes for a safe future."
Here are just a few of the many precautionary measures that can be used to safeguard your home and, in particular, your bathroom:
Good lighting is important, whether you have impaired vision or are simply making a night trip to the bathroom. Always turn on lights before walking into a dark room, even if you are going in just for a moment. Keep the light on in the bathroom at night, or use a night light. Keep a charged flashlight near your bed for emergencies.
Wipe up any spills as soon as they happen - spills on the floor can be dangerous. Any area rugs should have non-skid backing or be securely fastened with an adhesive, double-stick tape. Minimize clutter. Keep shoes, clothes, electrical cords, magazines and other items off the floor and out of your path.
For many seniors, stepping in and out of the tub is risky. Grab-bars, which clamp onto the edge of the tub and allow for safe tub entry and exit, are available in Juneau and through national medical supply companies. Slip-proof the bathtub or shower with a rubber mat or non-skid decals. Install safety grab rails on the bathtub or shower wall. For those with balance problems, a transfer bench eliminates the need for stepping over the edge of the tub and allows one to be seated rather than stand while they bathe.
Replace towel racks with sturdy grab bars - towel racks are not intended to support your weight, so beware! Grab bars surrounding toilets are particularly good safety measures for persons who experience balance problems, dizziness or muscle weakness. Raised toilet seats make it easier and safer to sit and rise; some even come with armrests.
To obtain items such as grab-bars in Juneau, call Geneva Woods Alaska (789-4201), Priority Home Health Care (364-3584), or Southeast Alaska Medical Suppliers (586-6880). Catalogs of such products may be obtained by calling Sammon's Preston at 1 (800) 323-5547 or North Coast Functional Solutions at 1 (800) 821-9319.
Although many of the items involve tool-free installation for temporary or permanent use, safety grab rails to be installed on the wall must be mounted into studs or sturdy reinforcing (not just into the sheetrock). The Juneau Flying Lions, the Juneau-Gastineau Rotary Club, or Priority Home Health assists seniors with such installation; any building contractor or handy man will also be able to install grab bars. Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) assists eligible persons with funding of home modifications and may also be able to help with the purchase and installation of these items.
Marianne Mills oversees nutrition and transportation services for older citizens living in Juneau, Sitka, Skagway and Yakutat as a staff member of Southeast Senior Services. Southeast Senior Services is a program of Catholic Community Service, a non-profit social service organization which serves all people regardless of their faith.