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Preventing Falls | Summer 2007 Out Here Magazine

Seniors can stay out of harm's way with a few adjustments

By Teresa Odle

There's no place like home, but injuries from falls take many aging people out of their homes, both temporarily and permanently. Taking steps to prevent falls and other dangers can keep you safe at home, where most of us would rather be.

"Lots of different aging situations can contribute to falls," says Janet Benavente, consumer extension agent with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Among these are changes in vision, hearing, medication use, and muscle and bone strength.

Nationally, about one-third of people age 65 and older report a fall each year, the extension service reports. That's preventable, Benavente says.

"The one most important fall prevention strategy is exercise," she says. Studies show that exercising just twice a week can improve mobility and prevent falls.

And, as aging begins to make its mark, you can make a home safer for you or a loved one, ranging from simple steps such as securing throw rugs to major remodeling. Many precautions, however, are simple and inexpensive.

Begin with a home safety list, Benavente advises. "Go through the home room by room and focus on the things you can change without any cost," she says.

No- and low-cost examples include:


  • Install a handrail on both sides.
  • On uncarpeted stairs, add a reflective strip on the edge of each riser for a better sense of depth.
  • If stairs become too difficult to climb, move the laundry and sleeping areas to the main floor.


  • Install under-the-counter light bars (easy to install with a screwdriver and regular outlet).
  • Consider moving frequently used pots, pans, dishes, and food from top cabinets to bottom; sit on a small stool when looking for items.
  • Remove some cabinet doors, leaving open shelves to improve lighting in cabinets.


  • More people fall at the toilet than in the shower, so add a sturdy grab bar.
  • Install an elevated toilet seat.
  • Use a liquid soap dispenser instead of bars that can drop on the shower floor.
  • Install a shower grab bar.
  • Install a padded seat that connects to both sides of the tub.
  • Add a hand-held showerhead for seated showering.
  • Install a nonskid mat or appliqués to the shower floor.


  • Install motion-sensitive lights to all outside entrances so you can easily navigate to a door, no matter the time of day.
  • Replace light switches with motion-sensitive plates in frequently used rooms so that the light will come on automatically when you enter.
  • Add flashing lights to the doorbell and telephone if you have difficulty hearing them ring. They're available at hardware or home improvement stores.

Downsizing is key to keeping homes free of clutter that may cause a fall, Benavente says. Have a yard sale or give away items you no longer need to good causes, she says, and hand off treasures and keepsakes to family members now.

Teresa Odle is a freelance writer in Albuquerque, NM.