At first glance, a fall may seem harmless — but this may not be the case. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury in adults over the age of 65. And as we age, the risk of a fall increases.
A fall can have a variety of associated complications, especially for older adults. Depending on the severity of the fall, the individual may experience a hospitalization for broken bones, concussions, or other serious medical issues. About 6 out of every 10 falls happen at home. Occupational therapists and nurses can assess the safety of a person’s home and advise on what changes to make to prevent falls.
Often, occupational therapists recommend activities or modifications to help a range of people achieve personal goals: they can help individuals with disabilities participate fully in academic or social settings, help those recovering from injury regain a specific skillset, and provide support for older adults experiencing physical or cognitive decline.
How can an occupational therapist help fall-proof a home?
Occupational therapists (OTs) take a look at a person’s daily activities and goals and may include comprehensive evaluations of the client’s home. From there, they make recommendations for adaptive equipment, as well as provide guidance and education for family members and caregivers.
An occupational therapist can be a wonderful addition to a care team because they focus on a person’s abilities and how to fit the environment to the client, instead of focusing on a person’s inabilities.
What modifications will an OT recommend?
Here are a few examples of recommendations an occupational therapist would make to fall-proof a client’s home.
Increase balance and stability. An OT will assess commonly used paths the client takes in the home. If there is an area of the house where the client leans against a wall or holds onto furniture for balance, an OT might recommend support bars or other equipment for increased stability.
Prevent tripping. An OT will look for clutter and make suggestions on how to keep items out of walkways, which may include storage solutions. If there are carpets in the home, they may suggest sticking them down or removing them entirely. If there are awkward steps, an OT may advise on grab bars or home renovations to remove sudden changes in height (for example, a small slope could be installed).
If the client has a small pet, an OT will make recommendations to ensure the client knows where the pet is at all times in order to prevent tripping.
Support easy access to high shelves. Standing on chairs or other unstable objects can increase the risk of a fall. An OT will look at what cupboards and shelves a client needs to access on a daily basis, and make sure that they are able to do so safely.
Assess the bathroom. The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous rooms in the home. Clients should never use towel bars for support, because they are not intended to be used in that way. OTs commonly recommend non-slip mats in the tub, along with grab bars in the shower and outside of the shower. To prevent tripping, they will advise that shower mats be tacked down.
Provide adequate lighting. An OT will evaluate all lighting in the house to ensure everything is visible, especially in commonly used areas. Night lights in the bedroom and bathroom can provide illumination should the client need anything in the middle of the night.
Occupational therapists may recommend strength training and balance exercises, too. They will work with other members of a client’s care team, such as doctors, physical therapists, caregivers, or family members, to ensure the client is achieving the quality of life they want.
If you or a loved one experiences a fall, you may need to be hospitalized. NurseRegistry is offering a free Hospital Discharge Guide and Discharge Planning Checklist in order to help you plan for discharge. NurseRegistry offers post-hospital care to help you heal at home after a fall.
For other fall prevention tips, visit NurseRegistry’s blog on “How to Prevent Falls Among Seniors”.
Melissa Fischer is the COO of NurseRegistry, where clients are matched with skilled nurses for care at home. NurseRegistry offers a full range of services, including wound care, medication management, infusion therapies, respite care, and more. Nurses are available across Northern California for short, hourly visits or 24/7 care. For more information, visit NurseRegistry online or call (650) 462-1001.