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Senior Safety Tips: Staircases

As we get older, simple tasks begin to become a chore. Once you or your loved one begins having trouble using the stairs, you start to realize just how many stairs there are. The few steps into the post office can be avoided with an elevator, but at home, they can be especially concerning. Falls are the leading cause of injury in adults over the age of 65. Unfortunately, a stark percentage of these accidents tend to occur on staircases, leaving staircase safety to be a top concern for both seniors and caretakers alike. Here is a quick rundown on senior risk factors for falling on the stairs and several ways to help make stairs safer:

Why do seniors fall on the stairs so frequently?

Seniors fall on staircases for a ton of different physical, environmental, and behavioral reasons. Some of which include:

- Poor vision

- Physical weakness

- Drowsiness (from medications or lack of sleep)

- Inactive lifestyle

- Loss of balance

- Defective or nonexistent handrails

- Poor lighting

- Lack of tread on shoes or stairs

- Unsuitable shoes

- Carrying objects up and down and losing balance

- Not concentrating

10 Stair Safety Tips for Seniors

While many risk factors make someone more likely to fall, there are many more ways to combat them. Here are a few ideas for you or your loved one to stay safe on the staircase.

1. Clear the staircase and surrounding areas

Everything surrounding the stairs is a potential trip hazard. Be sure to keep the top and bottom of the stairs clear of loose rugs, books, shoes, furniture, and other objects.

2. Improve lighting

Many staircases are neglected in the lighting department. While adjacent areas are often well lit, stairs tend to be dim at best. Start by changing the current lightbulbs to brighter ones. Low-glare overhead lights are ideal, but you can also use track lighting to ensure that each step is distinctly visible. If there aren't already light switches at the top and bottom of the staircase, be sure to have them installed.

3. Install anti-slip tread to the stairs

Many staircases are made from smooth materials like wood, tile, or vinyl. In these cases, it's a good idea to install abrasive rubber treads or anti-slip tape to the stair surface. By applying coatings with traction to slippery surfaces, you can ensure proper footing and grip. With carpeted stairs, be sure that the carpet is pulled tightly to prevent any bubbles or ripples that can cause a fall. Finally, you can add a strip of contrasting tape to the front or nosing of the steps to clearly outline where one step begins, and another ends.

4. Add or improve handrails

Handrails are the number one defense against falls on the stairs. If possible, they should be installed at elbow-height on both sides of the staircase. Make sure they're in tightly, as they need to be able to support the entire weight of yourself or your loved one without damaging the rail, wall, or post. Be sure you can get your hand wrapped all the way around the railing. It's also a good idea to extend the railings out a few inches from the top and bottom of the stairs for extra support. For stairs in public, it's a good idea always to use the handrails. If handrails aren't available, you should consider carrying a cane or walking stick for extra support.

5. Adjust your glasses and get your eyes checked

There are some conflicting accounts on whether or not glasses should be worn on the stairs. Some sources agree that having glasses in front of your eyes makes it more challenging to see your feet on your way up the stairs. Others say that without glasses you're more likely to trip from not seeing clearly at all. Either way, you should never wear reading glasses on the stairs. Be sure to take time to consider your eyesight as you go up and down the stairs. Try to get your eyes checked at least once every year so that your glasses are always an accurate prescription. You can also switch to contact lenses to avoid wearing glasses altogether. Additionally, you should take great care to adjust the positioning of your glasses as you head up or down the stairs, so the positioning of the glasses doesn't confuse the eyes.

6. Wear better shoes

One of the leading causes of accidental falls is directly related to footwear. Many seniors tend to wear suboptimal shoes and instead seek the comfort of bare feet, socks, or slippers. However, the findings of a systematic literature review showed that older people should be wearing better shoes. Shoes worn around the house should have low heels and a firm, slip-resistant sole. They should hug the foot tightly to prevent accidental slips or trips. Shoes are especially helpful on the staircase for grabbing traction and keeping the body upright.

7. Don't rush

Whenever the doorbell goes off or the phone rings, we tend to rush down the stairs. However, rushing leaves us susceptible to accidents and injuries. Be sure to take deliberate actions and pay attention to yourself as you head down the stairs. Be alert and stay cautious while you concentrate on taking your time getting down safely. Be sure to use handrails and adjust your glasses so you can see everything clearly. It's also worth mentioning that you shouldn't really be carrying things up and down. Save that for a loved one or caretaker with more balance.

8. Mount a personal emergency response system

For any seniors aging in place, a medical alert device or personal emergency response system is an absolute must-have. Since PERS devices can call for help at the press of a button, they can potentially save yours or your loved one's life if they did end up taking a fall and suffering an injury. PERS devices also help lower emergency response times or call friends and family instead of 911.

Many devices like LogicMark's FreedomAlert can support multiple buttons to one base, presenting the opportunity to mount a device in high-risk areas of the home like the staircase or bathroom. By installing an Emergency Wall Communicator at the top and bottom of the stairs, you can ensure a direct line to help after an injury or fall without having to crawl to a phone and making the injury worse.

9. Ask for help

We all need help sometimes! Accepting that you're not as balanced on your feet as you used to be will help you avoid a fall or injury on the stairs in the future. You should talk to your doctor about any medications that make you feel light-headed or unbalanced and ask for a different prescription. If you're in public and the stairs don't have handrails, it's okay to ask a stranger for assistance. People would much rather walk you up a short flight of stairs than call an ambulance after you fall and hurt yourself. At home, caretakers should do most of the stair climbing. Bottom line, don't be afraid to ask for help. It could save your life when it comes to stairs.

10. Consider the future

If you or your loved one is aging in place, it's essential to think about how the stairs will be a part of life during advanced stages of aging. In some cases, some seniors can use the stairs until the very end. In others, mobility becomes an issue. Some will experience a severe injury in their late age and have to readapt to life in a wheelchair. It's important to consider all of these factors for the future to comfortably and safely age in place. If mobility is an issue and your loved one spends a lot of time alone, a stairlift may need to be installed. In some cases, the best option is to move to a home with no stairs at all.

Another thing to consider is how long your loved one can handle the stairs. With proper exercise and balance-improving stretches, many seniors can continue using stairs with little to no incident.

2019 Senior Stair Safety Tips: Bottom Line

At some point, we all begin facing mobility issues leaving stairs to become a problem for all of us. While the dangers are present, there are many ways to use them safely. By taking a few extra precautions to use the stairs safely, we can avoid potentially life-threatening accidents and injuries. Overall, make sure you're following stair safety tips at home and in public to keep you or your loved one safe.


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