Fall-proofing your home for the holidays

November 22, 2017

Having friends and family over for the holidays? Make sure to fall-proof your home.  Lisa Cannada, MD, a SLUCare orthopedic surgeon at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital and Saint Louis University Hospital, sees an increase in injuries caused by falls around the holidays every year.

“People of all ages are at risk for falls. However, as people get older, the number of falls and the severity of injury resulting from falls increases,” Dr. Cannada said.
Each year, one out of three adults over the age of 65 falls, according to the CDC.

Normal aging affects our eyesight, balance, strength, and ability to quickly react to our environments.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in people age 65 and older, Dr. Cannada says. Common fall-related injuries include head injuries, shoulder and forearm fractures, spine fractures, pelvic fractures, and hip fractures. Only 25 percent of patients with a hip fracture will make a full recovery. Of those patients, 40 percent will require nursing home admission and 50 percent will be dependent upon a cane or a walker. Even more alarming, 20 percent will die within one year of the fall.

The holidays are a prime time for falls because new house guests may be unfamiliar with the layout of a home, Dr. Cannada says.

“They may be unaware of other environmental factors in the home that could put them at risk for a fall such as loose rugs, damaged flooring, poorly lit areas and cluttered furniture,” Dr. Cannada said. “New house guests aren’t the only ones at risk, though. People can be at risk for a fall in their own home if they don’t fall-proof.”
Before hosting your holiday parties, Dr. Cannada recommends taking the following precautions to prevent falls in your home.

  • It’s easy to accumulate clutter, such as boxes of décor and stacks of gifts from holiday shopping. Take the time to declutter your home and make improvements to prevent falls and keep family and friends safe.
  • Keep the path between your front door, driveway and mailbox well-lit and clear of debris.
  • For cold weather locations, keep salt and a shovel near the front door so you do not have to walk on an icy sidewalk in order to reach them.
  • Install a nightlight along the route between the halls/walkways of your home.
  • Clear clutter out of the hallways and off stairs
  • Secure loose area rugs with double-faced tape or slip-resistant backing;
  • Arrange furniture for a clear pathway between rooms
  • If you have young kids who will be visiting for the holidays or who live in your home, be sure to install child-proof gates next to the stairs in your home to prevent children from accessing them without adult supervision.
  • Children may receive lots of new toys for the holidays and scatter them around the house. It’s important to contain those toys in a dedicated play area and clean up toys after kids are done playing with them to avoid tripping.

“If a fall happens, do not panic,” Dr. Cannada said. “Take several deep breaths, access the situation and determine if you are hurt. If you are badly injured do not try to get up, instead call for help from a family member or a neighbor. If you are alone, slowly crawl to the telephone and call 911 or relatives.”
There are many things you or your loved ones can do throughout the year to prevent devastating falls. Dr. Cannada offers the following advice.  

  • First, take care of your body. It’s important to incorporate exercise into your daily life—to improve strength, stability and flexibility, and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Keep active. Lack of exercise leads to decreased balance, coordination, and bone and muscle strength.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Walk extremely carefully outdoors, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. If there are ice and snow, wear boots or shoes with nonskid soles.
  • Break harmful habits. Excessive alcohol intake and smoking decrease bone strength. Alcohol use can also cause unsteadiness and slow reaction times.
  • Pay attention to your diet. A poor diet and not getting enough water will deplete strength and energy, and can make it hard to move and do everyday activities.

For more information visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons educational site OrthoInfo.org\falls

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