Staying at home for the holidays does not mean the celebration is over. COVID-19 may halt standard family traditions, but hosting virtual gatherings and decorating the home are still fair game—with a few hazards to consider.
As 1 in 4 older adults experience a fall once a year, and 60% of falls occur at home, taking the appropriate precautions can prevent serious injury. As you move into the holiday season, there are ways to celebrate while preventing accidents, prioritizing your health, and safely outfitting your home.
Assess the physical
Environmental factors result in 30-50% of falls, but physical health matters just as much. There are a variety of medical conditions, situations, and medications that can increase your risk of experiencing a debilitating fall, including: weakness in the legs, vision problems, foot pain, balance or mobility issues, sensory limitations, cognitive ailments and decline, and medications that can cause dizziness, sleepiness, and confusion.
Talk to a doctor about any changes in your physical health that seem to impair your balance or throw off your depth perception. Let your general practitioner know all the different medications you are taking, so they can determine whether or not a new medication (or a combination of various medications) is affecting your balance.
Respect your limits
As you decorate your home, be mindful of inaccessible placement. Standing on a ladder, climbing staircases, and carrying heavy objects can decrease balance and increase your chance of falling. Keep decorations on ground-level and opt for holiday-themed throw pillows, picture frames, or simple wall decorations.
Most importantly, ask for help when you need it. Try not to be too hard on yourself for having to outsource physically-challenging tasks, like lifting heavy objects. Knowing your own limitations is a strength that could eventually save your life during and after the holiday season.
Remember to “swap out” instead of “add to.” Swap out your everyday throw pillows and blankets for holiday-themed ones, instead of doubling-up. Remove excess books, magazines, and stacks of mail that pile up in the living room. It may be tempting to decorate your entire home, but if you are decorating alone, choose your top five decorations and keep the rest stored away. This will reduce excess stress on your body and prevent clutter on tables, shelves, and floors, reducing the risk of falling.
Be mindful of safety hazards, like fireplaces, vents, radiators, candles, and space heaters. Keep all decorations away from these heater systems, and ask a trusted professional to ensure your furnace or oil burner are operating properly.
Older adults with vision impairment are more than twice as likely to experience a fall. As the days become shorter and the sun sets earlier, prioritize lighting in your decorating efforts.
LED lights are the safest option because they burn cooler than other lights, greatly reducing the risk of a house fire. Consider opening the curtains for natural light (which improves sleep, mood, and cognitive function), plugging in a lamp next to your bed, and adding nightlights around the house. Avoid lighting that requires you to plug in electrical cords, as too many cords can increase your chance of tripping and falling.
Keep it accessible
Use the extra time at home to consider your safety outfitting options. What are the features in your home that do not support your lifestyle anymore? How can you improve these features to promote safety in your home?
For example, bathtubs and showers that require you to step over a ledge can increase your chance of falling. Consider a walk-in shower with a chair or bench for optimal balance. If lifting up a leg is proving difficult, there are plenty of options to improve your showering system that suit your lifestyle. Grab bars and non-slip mats are great around the home, as well.
Stay safe after the holidays
The holiday season may last a few months, but your safety matters all year round. Consider purchasing an at-home medical alert system with a wearable emergency button, or a portable device with an unlimited range of coverage. This way, when you travel throughout your home, you have an emergency plan—ensuring you remain safe during and after this holiday season.