Increasing Staircase Safety A Step at A Time

Published by Stephen on January 4, 2010 Under fall prevention

Of the different areas in a home, the staircase is consistently the leading cause of senior falls and hospitalizations. Preventing senior falls is exceptionally important, as numerous studies have found that a senior who experiences a serious injury is at a much higher risk of experiencing complications, as well as having a much longer recovery time.

Making the Stairs Safer

The first step to decreasing the risk of a senior fall on the stairs is to evaluate the condition of the staircase and make repairs or improvements as necessary. Much of this is obvious, such as checking for loose steps, uneven steps, or a poorly secured hand rail or banister.

However, there are also a number of less obvious factors that can make the stairs harder to use or even dangerous. For example, if the handrail itself is made of rough wood or too large, it can make it harder to grasp by the senior. Other things like poor lighting can also be a risk factor, as can loose runners or very large carpet runners.

In regards to lighting it is very important to ensure that a light switch is installed at both the top and bottom of the stairs, so that the senior will never need to climb the stairs in the dark.

Not only should the actual staircase condition be evaluated, but the area around the stairs must also be made safer. For example, a loose carpet at the top or bottom of the staircase presents a very serious tripping hazard.

Loose Carpets, such as throw rugs, are dangerous in any area of the home, as the corner can turn up or the carpet itself may slide, both of which increase the risk of a fall. So, typically these types of carpets should not be used in the homes of elderly people.

What To Do When the Senior is Unable to Use the Stairs

In some instances, no matter what the actual condition of the staircase is, the senior will simply not be able to use it safely. This is often the result of poor vision, which can make seeing the individual steps very difficult, or arthritis that makes raising the legs high enough for each step much more difficult. Other factors, such as dementia, can also reduce the seniors balance.

So, when the senior is unable to safely use the stairs, there are a few options.

For seniors with poor vision, placing an alternating color of gritty textured tape on each step can make them easier to see and feel. However, make sure to use a different color of tape on the bottom and top step, so the senior knows when they are reaching the end of the staircase.

One option is to set up the home, so that the stairs are simply not used, such as by moving the bedroom to the lower level of the home. This is not always practical though, as it can be a very big inconvenience and many homes have a staircase leading up to them that is difficult to use.

Similarly to moving to a rest home, some seniors will also decide to move to a ranch style home that does not have any staircases, but again this requires a major life change and can be rather costly.

Many also decide to move to a rest home or other assisted living facility, which usually do not have stairs or offer an elevator. However, this can be quite expensive and aside from being further from their family, many seniors do not like the loss of privacy or control that comes with such a move.

A third option is to install an elevator or stair lift in the home. Elevators can be very expensive to install and tend to require a lot of modification to the home, as a vertical shaft between floors must be available. Stair lifts, on the other hand, offer a less expensive option and are directly attached to the stairs. Using a tracked system, the senior is carried up and down the stairs, most often in a chair attached to the stair lift track.

Indoor and outdoor stair lifts are available. However, since outdoor stair lifts are more expensive, they should only be used when the stair lift will be installed in an area that is exposed to the elements.

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