Are there small dangers lurking around the corner in your home or the home a loved one?
Got any throw rugs? Are the pathways clear? How about a cordless phone? Is the food reachable or placed too high? And not to get too personal, but what's the height of your toilet?
As people age, it's good to be prepared for the obstacles that lie ahead - or in the case of home safety, perhaps to remove them.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Michelle Robbins
Allie Rosile, right, said she basically runs the household at the home of her mother, Justina Nitzsky. “Yes, she does, and she does a good job,” her mother said.
"You definitely want to clear the decks a little bit to make some open areas," said Janet Schweitzer, executive director of SCOPE.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
Ann Sevenitch, director of community services for Shepherd of the Valley, said when providing home health services, they also look at the flooring, as well as placement of cords and furniture.
You can reduce your risk of falls by following five easy steps:
1. Increase your physical activity. Simple exercise, like walking or swimming at least 15 minutes a day can help build muscle strength and improve balance, which can prevent falls. If you are unable to participate in these activities, ask your doctor for other types of activities that could help build your strength and balance.
2. See your eye doctor once each year. Age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, can increase the risk of falling. Early detection is key to minimizing the effects of these conditions.
3. Review your medications. Talk to your doctor about the medicines you are taking and whether they may cause drowsiness or dizziness. Discuss things you can do to ensure you are taking your medicines safely.
4. Remove environmental hazards. Look around the house for anything that could increase the risk of falls, including poor lighting, loose rugs, slippery floors and unsteady furniture. Remove or modify these hazards. Identify areas where additional lighting, grab bars and other safety support are needed.
5. Think, plan and slow down. Many falls are caused by hurrying. Slow down and think through the task you are performing. Be mindful of possible falls risks and act accordingly.
Source: Ohio Department of Health
"Throw rugs are a no," Sevenitch said.
Schweitzer agreed: "You don't want scatter rugs, because they can trip you."
Changes like this have been taking place at the Girard home of Justina Nitzsky, 84, who lives with her daughter and grandson.
"We kind of ripped out the carpet to make it easier," said Nitzsky's daughter, Allie Rosile. Now, the home has hardwood floors and rugs that are secured.
Rosile also removes knobs from the stove, since her mother uses oxygen.
"I do all the cooking; she does all the dishes," Rosile said.
"She's a better cook than I am," added her mother.
Sevenitch said lighting should be bright enough, and a light can be on at night in case someone has to get up.
And while making that bathroom trip, a higher toilet seat might be helpful.
"You don't want to have to sink to sit on the toilet seat," Schweitzer said.
Even what's across from the commode can be of importance. Schweitzer said her mother, who lived to be 98, once grabbed a piece of light wicker furniture, which fell over.
"You want things to be secure," she said. "Now you can have grab bars in tubs and showers. Grab bars are great."
A lever-type handle at the sink is helpful, and the temperature of the water coming out of that faucet is a consideration.
"Senior skin is very thin. It becomes paper thin and more susceptible for burning," Sevenitch said. "We also don't have the greatest nerve sensitivity when we age, so we might not feel when it's too hot."
Rosile said her family is now in the process of re-doing the bathroom, adding a shower. Currently, the only shower is in the basement, and Nitzsky does not go up or downstairs anymore to avoid falls.
"Eventually, she's not going to be able to sit down in the bathtub," Rosile said.
Jim Thompson of Franklin Health Care Inc. in Warren said the store receives positive feedback about bath seats and bath transfer seats, which help someone get from one side of the tub to the other.
Thompson, of Warren, has installed chair lifts for the company for 16 years.
"When we deliver a lift chair or wheelchair, there's a safety checklist we go through," he said.
The list includes checking for fire extinguishers and smoke alarms, whether or not the outlets are properly grounded and if there is enough space to maneuver.
Other home safety considerations for seniors may include obtaining a home monitoring system and food accessibility, for which a reacher / grabber may help. A cordless phone, cell phone or a call system such as Life Alert can be a lifesaver after a fall, as well.
Sevenitch said people often don't think of doors, which can be modified to swing both ways.
Rosile, 58, recommends making things as normal as possible, carefully monitoring medications and knowing what not to leave out in the open.
"Sometimes she forgets little things that she should know," Rosile said.
She's even had the mailbox moved, so her mother could continue checking it.
"She helps me clean - she helps me do everything," Nitzsky said. "Alice is good for me. She keeps me on line."
So when should someone start making changes?
"I think that adult children need to start before their parents actually need the assistance. There has to be some planning and thinking ahead of time," Sevenitch said.
Schweitzer said the timing depends on a person's health. She also believes that contact with others is an effective safety measure, a plug for senior centers.
"Being with people who will miss you is important," she said.