2008-02-01 / Health

Safety proof your home to prevent slips and falls

According to the Home Safety Council, falls are the leading cause of non-fatal unintentional injuries occurring in the home.

More than 5.6 million injuries are reported each year,as a result of someone slipping or falling in their house.The majority of those who suffer from a fall are older adults,who fall in the bathroom, kitchen or on stairs.

DavidTerlizzi,director of Rehabilitation Services at Kimball Medical Center, says the hospital treats a significant number of adults every year who have fallen in the home,broken a bone and require physical therapy or other rehabilitation services to heal.

"Unfortunately,many older adults experience a slip or fall at some point in their lives,"he says."While some only are affected with minor bruises or injuries,others suffer from major complications, some of which can be life threatening for a very elderly person."

Terlizzi says one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent injuries in the home is to undergo a simple safety check of the house to identify and correct potential slip and fall hazards.

"Take a walk around the home and keep an eye out for anything that might cause one to trip or fall,"Terlizzi says. "Three areas to look most closely at are the bathroom,kitchen and stairways."He offered these tips to help safety-proof your home.

• Make sure all stairs and steps have banisters or hand rails on both sides.

• Install adequate lighting,especially near stairs,hallways and entrances to the home.Place light switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs.

• Use nightlights to illuminate dark areas at night,especially the path from the bedroom to the bathroom.

• Reduce clutter and always keep walkways clear of debris or other items. This is especially important on stairways and landings.

• Use non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower which adheres to the floor with adhesive or suction.

• Install permanent grab bars in the shower.Do not substitute a towel rack or soap dish for a grab bar as they can some loose,causing a fall.

•Wipe up water or other spills which can cause falls.

• Use non-skid backing or adhesive to anchor down throw rugs or loose carpeting. Even better, remove all throw rugs.

Terlizzi says younger adults also suffer from falls in the home,many the result of ladder use.According to the Home Safety Council,over 150,000 people per year are treated in Emergency Departments around the country due to ladder injuries.

"Falling from a ladder can cause severe injuries,"Terlizzi says."Broken bones, pulled or torn muscles,cuts and head injuries are the most common,which can all result in lengthy recovery times."

Keep these ladder safety tips in mind the next time you set out on a home project:

•Always place the ladder on level ground and make sure all locks are set.

•Wear slip-resistant shoes when climbing a ladder,never bare feet.Make sure the ladder is dry.

• Center your body on the ladder and keep two feet on the treads to ensure stability.

• Do not reach too far beyond the ladder. Use your bellybutton as a guide. If your belly button is beyond the ladder rail, you've reached too far.

• Never climb beyond the safest step on the ladder.For a step ladder, this is the second rung from the top.For an extension ladder, it is the fourth rung from the top. For those prone to falls in the home, Terlizzi suggests installing some form of emergency call or lifeline system so an older adult can access help if they can't get up.

"The reality is,many adults- especially those who live alone- fall and can't get up,"he says."If they can't access help through an emergency pendant or call button they wear, they could lie on the floor waiting until someone arrives."

He also suggests regularly checking on loved ones or neighbors who live alone - ideally once a day- to make sure they haven't fallen or injured themselves.However, he warned that despite following all of these precautions, falls may still occur at home.

"If a fall occurs,you should seek medical help immediately,even if your injuries seem minor at the time,"he says."Some injuries may not reveal themselves until later on or even the next day,causing more injury or harm if left untreated."

Kimball Medical Center offers the Kimball Institute for Rehabilitative and Occupational Health Services which offers rehabilitative services for patients who have suffered injuries as a result of slips and falls.For more information,call (888) SBHS-123 (888-723-7123).

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