By Jessica Hegg
When it comes to accidental falls, you may think that you understand the risk factors that face the elderly as they age-in-place.
You’ve moved your loved one to a home without stairs – or installed a chairlift or other safety apparatus. You’ve installed a raised toilet seat, grab bars, shower stool, and non-slip mats in the bathroom – you’re covered!
After all, a large portion of falls do occur in the bathroom and on stairs – especially if they lack security devices – so you’re probably good to go, right?
Wrong. Although bathroom falls and stair falls compose a large portion of falls in the elderly, they’re not the whole picture. In fact, when data is collated and analyzed, there’s one clear cause of falls that rises above all others: Clutter and disorganization.
Environmental hazards such as loose rugs and poorly secured storage bins are associated with a huge number of “environmental” falls – falls that are directly caused by some object or lack of safety.
Why is Clutter Such a Big Problem?
The best reason we can come up with is simple – it’s unexpected.
Your loved one isn’t expecting their favorite Persian rug to have a corner upturned in the dining room while they’re walking through with a watering can – they’re not expecting their hall closet to have a storage bin on the upper shelf waiting to fall down onto them when they open it to look for their vacuum, and they’re not expecting the toy their grandkid left behind to be sitting in the middle of the hall when they wake up to use the bathroom at night.
However, when using stairs, bathrooms, and other typically “risky” facilities, your aging loved one is typically on a slightly higher level of alertness – they know that what they’re doing could be risky, and take appropriate steps and precautions.
On the other hand, when a hall rug is turned up unexpectedly, your loved one may not even notice, and walk on through like nothing happened.
The fact that these falls and risks are unexpected is the source of their danger – by default, your loved one cannot prepare for a fall caused by these issues, as they’ll likely never see it coming.
So What Can Be Done?
The only real way to minimize environmental, storage and clutter hazards is by taking a close look at commonly trafficked areas and taking appropriate steps to reduce these hazards. For example – take a close look at the kitchen.
That kitchen mat that’s been there for years. Is it secure? Could it be pushed out of place, leaving a corner upturned and hazardous? Is the pantry easily accessible without the use of a step stool or other method of height elevation? Are important pots, pans and implements in areas that are risky to reach?
Or storage closets – look at commonly used storage closets for risky objects – unsecured boxes in high areas can be risky, and should be moved both to be easily accessible, and to pose less of a risk if they get pushed around.
Hallways are actually surprisingly risky environments – for simple reasons. Hallways are often walked through with no problem at all, and though little time is spent in the hallway itself, hallways often are responsible for quite a bit of foot traffic.
Not only that, the hallways isn’t seen as a “risky” area – just a simple corridor with little danger. However, hall rugs and clutter in hallways can be a huge cause of falls in the elderly – especially at night, when the senses are dampened and risky situations are hard to see.
Minimize Clutter, Maximize Safety
Minimizing clutter isn’t a one-time solution – it’s a form of maintenance that must be undergone multiple times, and it’s good to include an aging loved one in the conversation.
Help them understand the risks – rugs, out-of-place storage boxes, clutter like toys or tools left in places they normally aren’t. Help them understand what areas are the most risky – such as hallways and awkward storage closets – and then help them clean these areas of clutter, making a plan to keep them free of clutter as you go.
Taking Steps to Reduce Risk
Clutter is certainly not the only reason that elderly people fall, but minimizing clutter is one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of an environmental fall – without buying expensive equipment or devices.
Because of this, any comprehensive aging-in-place solution must include a discussion about the risks of clutter, and steps that can be taken not only to minimize it, but to continue upkeep of your loved one’s home so that it remains safe and accessible.
These simple steps can go a long way to keeping your loved one safe and secure as they age, and ensure a worry-free environment.
Jessica Hegg serves as the Content Manager for Vivehealth.com. The company, based in Naples, Florida, provides a wide array of medical supplies, as well as tips for healthy aging.