The author Amy Tan recently posted a message to her followers that we felt was incredibly important. We are sharing it here in the hopes you'll pass on her suggestions to your older friends and loved ones. Let's all pledge to take care of each other this year.
If you make New Year’s resolutions, it’s not too late to add one more: How not to fall in your house.
Need motivation? There are alarming statistics concerning women over age 60 who suffer hip fractures from falls. The one-year mortality rate is 21%, meaning 1 in 5 women will die in the first year, usually related to complications, such as pneumonia that can develop when a person is less mobile. Most fall-related injuries occur at home—for men, it is often from falling from heights, say, while on a ladder cleaning the gutters.
Since many of my followers are over 60, here is some advice to prevent falls. Most of them are my own “live and learn” lessons from falls I’ve had and the factors that put me at risk.
1. Always use the hand rail when taking the stairs. I estimate I’ve fallen a half dozen times over my lifetime for various reasons, some of them listed below. Many would not have happened if I had used a handrail. Consider installing handrails leading up to your front door. If you think you don’t need it, think about elderly friends or relatives who are not as fit as you.
2. Turn on the light when it’s dark or use an auto-on nightlight. I use one of those clip-on reading lights as a flashlight when heading for the bathroom and my husband is sleeping. I’ve tripped over things and fallen on stairs in the dark when what I thought was the last step was not the last.
3. Don’t carry a bunch of stuff in both hands while descending stairs or walking on sloped uneven surfaces, especially if those items block you from seeing obstacles or uneven steps.
4. Never walk while looking at your cell phone. That goes for inside the home and out. I know of two older friends who recently fell looking at their cell phone. One tripped on uneven pavement, and another did not take into account the greater height of her friend’s car as she stepped out while reading email. A firefighter in NYC told me that one of the leading causes of pedestrian deaths is inattentiion while looking at a cell phone and wearing headphones.
5. Routinely scan ahead to note obstacles or changing conditions. I once was engaged in talking to someone as we strolled on a level walkway. I did not notice that the flat walkway was becoming an elevated sidewalk with a 5” curb. My left foot rolled off the curb and I broke my ankle. Fortunately, it was not my hip.
6. Be aware of where you place throw rugs, and also rugs that do not lie flat. Falls can happen when your foot catches the edge or when rugs are slippery. This is a real danger for those with Parkinson’s or MS.
7. Consider installing grab bars in your shower and tub. I am actually surprised how many bathrooms of friends have deep tub and shower combos, and only a slippery tiled wall to lean against. They cite that grab bars are ugly. I ask if their elderly parents ever stay overnight. Aha! You can slip when you step in and balance on one leg, or when standing on soap-and shampoo laden tub bottoms with your eyes closed. Your balance is simply not as good when you can’t see. Try standing on one foot with eyes open and then closed. I speak from experience. I have fallen in the shower of a former home that had very slippery tiles and nothing to grab. Another fall occurred in a hotel with a curved tub, which led to my shooting up and over the tub and landing onto a very hard floor. I have nearly fallen many times when using shower-tubs in hotels and the homes of friends. Oh, and those bath mats with grippy suction cups. Did not work for me. Soap on plastic is dangerous.
My current home has teak grab bars in the bathrooms. I love the look and their usefulness. They are sealed to be waterproof. They make for very nice towel racks, and in fact, I do hang washcloths on the one in my shower and a bath mat on another. I also have teak grab bars as towel bars in the guest powder room. Before I did that, I had an elderly guest who ripped off the towel bar and toilet paper holder when he leaned on them to stand up. There are many websites that sell attractive grab bars that don’t resemble those ugly aluminum ones you see in hospitals.
8. Be careful when walking on marble tile. I once slipped three times during the course of my stay in hotel that had beautiful marble floors that housekeeping polished to a shine. Wear non-skid shoes with traction even on slick surfaces. If choosing tile for a bathroom, consider small tiles, like penny tile connected by grout.
9. Be aware of dogs and cats that tend to get underfoot. A friend of mine tore her ACL when she tried to avoid falling on her little dog. My dogs often try to scoot by me.
10. Get into a balanced position when stepping out of the car. I once hurriedly stepped out of the car on one foot when the door was not fully open. I was off balance sideways with one foot still in the car and when I lost my balance, I had nothing to grab onto and fell backward and hit my head on concrete. That’s one way to end your writing career. I recommend opening the door fully, and swinging your legs together so that both feet are on the ground before standing up. A friend described it as “the ladylike way we were told to sit when we wore tight skirts in the ‘60s.”
11. Slow down when walking fast and changing directions. Your required balance shifts. I fell when I stepped outside onto the patio, and immediately turned, lost my balance when sideways, and fell onto a bunch of flower pots. Lots of bruises.
12. Remove obstacles on the floor, like magazines, clothes, and charging cords. I know of one author who broke a leg when he got out of bed and immediately stepped on a magazine. I fell when I stepped on clothes on the floor that I was about to pack for a trip.
13. If you go barefoot or wear only socks indoors, use grippy socks. They have a sticky bumps on the bottom. You can also get grippy yoga socks.
14. If you need to get something from up high on a shelf, use something very sturdy to stand on, and make sure you have something to hold onto if you lose your balance—but not something that will move when you hold on. I installed grab bars in my closet.
15. Think twice about using a ladder, indoors or out. My husband had a ladder slide out from under him when he was changing a light bulb on a 14’ high ceiling. He was lucky he was not killed. A high percentage of men who die of falls were on tall ladders or on the roof, cleaning gutters. We installed LED lights in our home so that we will not have to get in a ladder to change bulbs for years. And when they need to be changed, we will get someone young to do it.
16. Do core body exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles, quads, and glutes. They are all very much needed for balance. Also do stretches. Older people who are less flexible tend to move their upper and lower body as one unit. Practice turning your head to the side one way and the other. Turning your head to see something is better than turning your whole body. You can find exercise and stretching suggestions on YouTube.
17. Be proactive if you live with someone who is 85 or older or with someone who has dementia, weakness from stroke, cancer, or any disease that impairs coordination, like Parkinson’s. Also consider safety issues if you have elderly or mobility-impaired family or friends who visit, especially if they stay overnight.
18. If you have tall bed —frame, box spring and thick mattress—consider a lower bed. No box spring, for example, or a bed frame with less clearance. If you have a hard bare floor by your bed, consider carpeting your floor. If you add an area rug, put a non-slip pad underneath so it does not slide.
All of these points are triply important if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. Have a healthy 2022!