How to Prevent Falls and Accidents at Home

Many older adults want to continue to live in their homes as they age. However, a looming concern for them or their family members is the risk of a fall or accident. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 3 adults 65 or older fall every year. According to the National Council on Aging, “falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.” These falls take a toll on a person’s physical and mental health, but they can also take a toll on one’s finances. A fall is estimated to cost an average of $34,294.

Older adults who live alone are most susceptible to falling. Seniors who worry about falling tend to limit activities that they perceive as increasing the risk of a fall, such as walking, shopping, or taking part in social activities. The irony is that this isolation could lead to loneliness or depression, which also increases the risk of a fall or accident. So, what should you do in this situation?

Since every person’s situation is unique, you should consult your doctor to determine what is right for you. But here are some ways you can reduce your risk of falling:

  1. Stay active: Take a walk, go shopping, garden, visit with friends and family, and do light exercises (if possible) to help you stay fit and active. Letting your muscles become weak makes you more likely to fall, so doing what you can without overextending yourself is a good idea. Check your local senior center for exercise classes for seniors!
  2. Assess fall factors: As our bodies age, our senses begin to dull. Consider your eyesight, hearing, balance, and reflexes. If it’s been a while since you’ve had any of these checked, it may be time to ask your doctor about them. Being aware of a problem can, in many ways, prevent it from turning into a bigger problem.
  3. Read your medications: Many medications have side effects that could lead to a fall, such as dizziness, sleepiness, or confusion. Talk to your doctor about ways you may be able to offset these side effects.
  4. Get enough sleep: You are more likely to fall if you are tired or sleepy.
  5. Stand up slowly: If you stand up too quickly, your blood pressure may drop, causing you to feel dizzy.
  6. Use a cane, walker, or other assistive device when you walk: Even if you don’t think you need it, it pays to be safe.
  7. Eat healthy: Vitamin D and calcium are important to keep your bones strong, which can help to prevent falls, but everyone benefits from a diet rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Ask your doctor about ways to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy.
  8. Always update your doctor: If you fall, it is important to alert your doctor, even if you did not hurt yourself or were able to get up okay. Your doctor may be able to determine why that fall happened and help to prevent it from happening again.
  9. Make your home safer: There are many ways to make your home safer and prevent falls. For example, if you have trouble seeing at home, you may want to add night lights and purchase brighter light bulbs. If you have loose carpet or rugs, you may need to secure them to prevent tripping over them. To be sure, ask your doctor about having an occupational therapist or other expert come to your home to assess the safety of your living environment. And read our last blog post: Making Homes Safer for Older Adults.

At NeighborWorks, we believe that your home should always be a safe and comfortable space where you can live without fear. Since 6 out of 10 falls occur at home, it is clear that more work needs to be done to help older adults make their homes safer. If you or someone you know is an older homeowner, contact us to learn more about the ways we may be able to help make your home safer.

For more information about preventing falls at home:

National Falls Prevention Resource Center

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
1-800-232-4636 (toll-free)
1-888-232-6348 (TTY/toll-free)

This post is part of a series focused on helping older homeowners live safely and comfortably in their own homes for as long as possible, a concept know as aging in place. Read our last post, Making Homes Safer for Older Adults, and stay tuned for the next post in the series!

Making Homes Safer for Older Adults

When you think about growing older, what kind of life do you want to have? What kind of hobbies or activities will you take up? What about spending more time with your family? Have you thought about where you want to live?

According to the AARP, 90% of adults age 65 or older want to stay in their homes as they grow older, rather than living in a nursing home or moving in with family. This desire to remain in your own home through retirement and beyond is referred to as “aging in place.”

No matter a person’s situation, it is important they be informed about their options and decide for themselves what is best for them. A family doctor, occupational therapist, or other trained medical professional is a good person to consult when considering the best living options, but it is also important to talk to family and friends who are familiar with the personal and medical needs of the person considering aging in place. Many factors come into play when deciding where to live after retirement: income, social life, safety, and housing needs (for both accessibility and other personal reasons).

In Northeastern Pennsylvania, an unusually old housing stock presents a major challenge. Over 40% of homes in Lackawanna County were built before 1939, compared to just 13% nationwide. While these homes add a unique charm to our communities, they may not be easily accessible to older adults, especially those who need help walking and those with other disabilities. Although these homes may be older, there are some relatively inexpensive ways they can be made safer for aging in place:

  1. Making the home brighter: Swap out old lightbulbs for newer, brighter ones; make sure all light bulbs are working; add nightlights to hallways and bathrooms; add LED lighting to dark closets, halls, and other dimly lit areas.
  2. Preventing falls: Install grab bars near toilets, bathtubs, and showers; add non-slip mats both inside and outside bathtubs and showers; secure loose rugs and carpet to the floor using carpet tape; make sure vinyl and tile floors are dry and free of spills; add grip tape to outdoor steps; make sure walkways are free of clutter and things that can be tripped over.
  3. Making sure you are prepared: Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and garage; make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in vital areas (kitchen, bedrooms, stairways, hallways) and that they have working batteries; check radon levels using test kits.

If you are concerned about where you or a loved one will live when approaching retirement age, you are not alone. As members of the Baby Boomer generation enter retirement, the demographics of the entire country are shifting. In Lackawanna County, the change is even more drastic. In fact, by the year 2030, it is predicted that about 25% of Lackawanna County residents will be 65 or older. At NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania, it will become increasingly important to analyze the needs of these seniors to become more aware of the challenges they face and provide solutions for them.

This is the first in a series of posts focused on helping older homeowners live safely and comfortably in their own homes for as long as possible, a concept know as aging in place. Stay tuned for the next post in the series!

Paint the Town Makes Homes Safer for Elderly Residents

On an unseasonably warm fall day, student volunteers from the University of Scranton fanned out across the city to make aging residents’ homes safer. This was the first day of NeighborWorks’ fifth annual Paint the Town, a week-long home repair event serving low-income, elderly, and disabled homeowners.

In the past, Paint the Town volunteers have spent the week painting and completing other exterior home repair projects (hence the name). But this year, during the week of September 25-29, they installed solar-powered exterior lights, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and other home safety items for more than 20 elderly homeowners in Scranton.

The work was completed by more than 50 student volunteers from the University of Scranton’s occupational therapy department, who also conducted assessments with each of the homeowners to determine the day-to-day challenges they face and what home modifications might enable them to live more safely and comfortably in their homes. These volunteers, like graduate student Mia Stanvitch, appreciated the chance to apply what they’ve learned in class to the struggles real homeowners face as they grow older.

“We had the opportunity to help residents live independently in their homes by installing a variety of home modifications,” Mia said. “I was able to see that these small changes make a big difference!”

Her professor, Dr. Marlene Morgan, who helped NeighborWorks staff coordinate the event, called the experience a “living laboratory.” According to Dr. Morgan, “The opportunity [for students] to serve the community, apply their occupational therapy knowledge, and enhance home safety for older homeowners is an experience that I would never have been able to duplicate in any lecture.”

Nine volunteers from Citizens Savings Bank also chipped in by installing safety items in the homes of four elderly West Scranton residents. Bank employees have participated in Paint the Town every year since its inception!

We are immensely grateful for our volunteers’ hard work and dedication, and so are the homeowners they served! One of them, Lorraine Lavetsky, wrote to us after Paint the Town wrapped up. “There are not enough words for me to thank you and the volunteers for the work they did in my home,” she wrote. “They did work that could meet pro standards, worked fast and explained so much to me. These students’ families should be proud.”

View photos from Paint the Town 2017

View WNEP’s coverage of Paint the Town