There are certain areas in the home where people are more prone to falls — bathrooms and kitchens top the list, of course, because of the combination of hard floors and water. Those who are home alone, including small children and the elderly, may be at particular risk, because it could be hours before someone finds the injured person.
Falls are the second-leading cause of deaths from accidents around the globe. Most fatal falls are in older adults over the age of 65, but people of any age can fall and get injured. Fortunately, there are some things you can do today and make your kitchen a safe zone.
Over time, nearly every home gathers more items than the inhabitants need. The more clutter you have, the more risk of tripping over something and falling or hurting yourself if you do fall. Decide whether you really need eight chairs around your table when only two people live there, or if you even use those bar stools that stick out from the edge of your kitchen island. Go through boxes and eliminate them. Clear as much clutter as possible.
Place a non-skid mat in front of your kitchen sink. Since this is the likely location for water spills, adding a mat allows you to prevent slippery spots. If your dishwasher isn’t right next to your sink, add a non-skid mat in front of it as well.
Although the elderly are at most risk of falling, children are also another high-risk group and more likely to engage in risky behaviors that cause injury. For example, what if a child climbs onto the countertop to get to a box of cereal and takes a fall? Teach small children not to climb or run in the kitchen. Provide supervision for extremely small children. If you have an older child who spends time alone after school, set firm rules about what they can do in the kitchen and eliminate as many risks as possible.
For those at high risk of injury, modify the environment with assistive devices, which could be as simple as adding a stool to sit on while washing dishes. Invest in a risk assessment from a safety professional, and make any other changes to create a safe environment with reduced risk of injury. That can be particularly important for elderly people who aren’t as steady on their feet, but want to have the independence of living alone.
One simple thing for everyone is adding shoes to the equation. It’s tempting to run around the house in just your socks, but when those socked feet hit slick tiles, falls occur. If your child is home alone or an elderly relative lives alone, ask them to wear athletic shoes or shoes with soles that aren’t slick around the house. This habit will also protect them in other hard-floor areas, such as bathrooms.
Building certain muscles and improving hand-eye coordination prevents slips and falls and also strengthen the body in case of a fall, so the results aren’t quite as devastating. Older adults who practiced Tai Chi three times a week during a six-month trial reduced their risk of falls by 55 percent. There are many other benefits to regular exercise as well, such as increased energy and improved self-esteem.
Your kitchen should be brightly lit. If someone is walking through the kitchen, they should be able to clearly see what is in front of them. This also prevents spilled liquids from becoming hazards. In bright lighting, it’s much easier to see spills and clean them up before they present a problem.
Either remove or secure rugs, as they can present tripping hazards. Many people put a rug under their dining table or to transition from one room to the next, but you might trip on one of these or skid across the room and fall. Either buy a rug with grips on the back or secure the rug with special tape or tacks to prevent it from moving around.
It seems so easy to just drag a chair over and climb up to a high cabinet or maybe even step onto a countertop, but you’re putting yourself at risk when you do these things. Instead, invest in a wide stepping stool with handrails. There are many varieties of stools available, including ones that fold up for storage when not in use.
Take time to really survey your kitchen for hidden fall hazards. Be prepared in case a fall happens anyway. Either carry a cell phone on your person at all times, or invest in an alert system so the victim of a fall can press a button and get help immediately. That works not just for the elderly, but anyone who is alone for big portions of the day.