Is your house setting you up for a bad fall?

Published May 31, 2007

While recently visiting this month from out of town, my mother took a terrible fall that landed her in the emergency room and required considerable care and medical followup.

She is still unable to use her left shoulder or walk properly and has been forced to extend her stay until she recovers.

Though the fall occurred elsewhere, the incident caused me to think about my own home, how safe it is, and what I can do to prevent visitors and house guests from injuring themselves in the future.

After a quick visual review, I realized that my seemingly safe little condo is teeming with hidden hazards, including throw rugs with no skid mats, a glass coffee table with sharp edges, no night lights, bathtub mats or grab bars in the shower.

June is Home Safety Month, an occasion for the nonprofit Home Safety Council to educate the public on many issues concerning home safety, including falls, the leading cause of unintentional home injury death.

You can download a home safety brochure at its Web site www.homesafetycouncil.org.

Falls account for an average of 5.1-million injuries and nearly 6, 000 deaths per year.

The vast majority of fall deaths occur among people age 65 or older and that death rate is higher for men, according to the Home Safety Council.

The organization encourages families to identify and correct potential falling hazards in and around the home.

Here are some home safety tips from the Home Safety Council:

-All steps and stairs should be protected with a secure banister or hand rail.

-Make sure all porches, hallways and stairwells are well-lit.

Use the maximum safe wattage in light fixtures.

(Maximum wattage is typically posted inside light fixtures.)

-Use night lights to help light hallways and bathrooms during night hours.

-Keep stairs, steps, landings and all floors clear. Reduce clutter and safely tuck phone and electrical cords away from walkways.

-Don't leave toys and games on steps and landings.

When very young children are present, use safety gates on the tops and bottoms of stairs.

-Use a nonslip mat or install adhesive safety strips or decals in bathtubs and showers.

If you use a bath mat on the floor, choose one with a no-skid bottom.

-Install grab bars in bath and shower stalls. Don't use towel racks or wall-mounted soap dishes as grab bars; they can easily come loose, causing a fall.

-Install window guards to prevent young children from falling out of upper windows. (Select guards with emergency release devices.)

-Keep the floor clean. Promptly clean up grease, water and other spills.

-If you use throw rugs, place them over a rug-liner or choose rugs with nonskid backs.

- Use a sturdy step stool with rails when climbing is necessary.

-Follow medication doses closely.

Using multiple medications incorrectly may cause dizziness, weakness and other side effects, which can lead to a dangerous fall.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.