Room-by-room fall prevention checklist
One of the most important locations to focus on fall prevention is the bathroom. Hard surfaces like tile, porcelain, marble, glass, and metal abound in bathrooms – and those are just some of the perils. People often use them at night, when they’re less alert. Bathrooms get hot and steamy, which can be disorienting. In addition, people usually exit the shower naked and barefoot without their eyeglasses, hearing aids, or other assistive devices. Surfaces can be slick from not only water but mildew, soap residue, and lotions or hair conditioner. Cotton bath mats without rubber backings may shift and do more harm than good.
The key factors to consider in a bedroom are its proximity to the bathroom, the height and placement of the bed, and ensuring an environment that is quiet and conducive to sleep. Many seniors report difficulty falling and staying asleep, and being tired greatly increases the risk of falls. It is common for seniors to experience dizziness when going from lying to sitting and standing. Having a bed rail or transfer pole can help keep them steady while their bodies adjust. Getting up can be difficult, so beds shouldn’t be too high or too low. When sitting on the edge of the bed, the elder’s knees should form a 90-degree angle, with both feet flat on the floor. It’s important that the room be large enough so there is a clear path to the bed without obstruction. For very large rooms, a chair can be helpful as a resting place or something to hold onto. Good lighting, convenient switches, and room for a walker by the bed are pluses.
In kitchens, living rooms and elsewhere, the key is to identify features that might make everyday tasks more challenging. Does your senior loved one have trouble getting up from a chair or couch? Maybe it’s too low. Ideally, a senior should be able to walk into the living room, sit comfortably, and have essential items at hand like a phone, remote control, and glass of water. Are kitchen cupboards and drawers easy to open? Having to struggle with a sticky drawer can throw an elderly person off balance. Fire safety is a big concern for seniors in the kitchen. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that people over the age of 65 have a 2.7 times greater risk of dying in a kitchen fire than the general population.
❏ Are there grab bars by the shower or tub (or surfaces where they could be installed)?
❏ Does the bathtub have a non-slip surface?
❏ Is there room for a walk-in tub, if desired?
❏ Are the sink faucet handles lever-style (preferred) or round (which can be harder to control)?
❏ Are the hot and cold water taps clearly marked?
❏ Is the toilet paper holder designed so it can be changed with one hand?
❏ Is there a handheld shower?
❏ Is there a shower bench, or room for a shower chair?
❏ Are the towel bars securely fastened to the wall?
❏ Is the toilet on a side wall in the bathroom (preferred) or directly across from the entrance?
❏ Is there room for a safety frame around the toilet seat?
❏ Is there enough counter and storage space, so essential items can be kept within easy reach?
❏ Are the counters too high or too low?
❏ Are there any water leaks?
❏ Is there a ventilation fan to help clear steam quickly?
❏ Does the door swing out or into the bathroom? Outward-swinging doors are a safer option, allowing faster emergency access if a senior falls against the door.
❏ Is the bedroom on the ground floor?
❏ How close is the bedroom to the bathroom?
❏ Is there a light switch within reach of the bed?
❏ Is there a phone within reach of the bed?
❏ Is the path from the doorway to the bed clear and uncluttered?
❏ Is the furniture steady enough to support your loved one’s weight if they reach for it in the dark?
❏ Is there room for a bed rail or side transfer pole? (Bedside fall mats are not recommended.)
❏ Is there ample space to keep mobility aids like canes or walkers by the bed?
❏ Is there room for a sturdy chair that the senior can sit in while dressing?
❏ How large is the closet? Overcrowded closets can pose a risk; walk-in styles are generally better for seniors.
❏ Are the closet rods and shelves adjustable, so they can be raised or lowered for easier access?
❏ Is there a light inside the closet?
❏ Is there a wide, straight, and clear path to the sitting area? You should not have to walk around furniture to enter the room.
❏ Are couches and chair seats high enough, so the senior can sit down or get up without difficulty?
❏ Do the sofas and chairs have armrests for support?
❏ Is there a low-lying coffee table that might be difficult to see and could pose a hazard?
❏ Are switches, outlets, and jacks conveniently located, so the senior can reach a phone and switch on a light from his or her favorite seat?
❏ Are drawers and cupboards easy to open and close?
❏ Is the fridge sturdy with ample room for food on central shelves? Side-by-side models are best for seniors.
❏ Is there enough storage and counter space to keep frequently used items at waist height?
❏ Do cupboards have sliding shelves or lazy susans for easier access?
❏ Do chairs have arms for support?
❏ If there is an electric range, does it shut off automatically if left unattended for too long?
❏ If there is a gas range, does it have an automatic shut-off feature in case the pilot light goes out?
❏ Is there a working ventilation or exhaust system over the stove?
❏ Do all electrical outlets have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) to protect against power surges and overload?
❏ Is there adequate lighting over the sink, range, and countertop areas?
❏ Is the oven at a comfortable height?
❏ Are oven controls easy to read?
❏ Is there a garbage disposal? And if the senior doesn’t need it, can it be disconnected?
❏ Are flammable items like dish towels at least 3 feet from heat sources?
❏ Is there a sturdy step stool with a handrail for reaching high items?
Can you spot the falling hazards in this photo?