Falls can result in minor bumps and bruises, but can also result in more serious injuries, such as head trauma and broken bones. In the case of falling, prevention is the best treatment. Although there is no way to prevent all falls 100% of the time, there are a number of steps you can take in your home to reduce your risk of falling.
- Lighting: Maintain adequate lighting (especially at night) in all rooms of the house. It is much easier to avoid falling if you can use your vision to help with balance. Ensuring access to light switches at the entrance of each room can help, eliminating the need to walk into a dark room to find the light. Night lights in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms can make night trips to the bathroom easier and less dangerous
- Stairs: Install or firmly secure existing railings on both sides of stairwells. If you have trouble seeing the edge of each step, place contrasting (brightly colored) strips of tape along the edge of each stair – this outlines each step better and helps with depth perception. Firmly secure any rugs that run on stairwells, and keep the stairs free of clutter.
- Floors: Remove scatter rugs whenever possible – they are a major fall hazard. Any rugs that are not secured on the edges should be taped or tacked down securely. Tape down electrical, extension, and telephone cords that run across the floor with easily visible tape. Minimize clutter in walking paths. Remove thresholds wherever possible, or if removal is not feasible, clearly mark thresholds with brightly colored strips of tape. Avoid polishes that make floors slick. Allow lots of space around furniture, and keep furniture in its accustomed spots for easy navigation.
- Bathrooms: Install grab bars (NOT TOWEL RACKS) in and outside of the tub and around the toilet. Make sure grab bars are attached to the studs in the wall. Use a non-skid mat in the shower stall. Use a shower chair or bath bench in the shower, and convert the shower to a hand-held showerhead. If you are having difficulty getting up from the toilet, install a raised toilet seat or commode seat over the toilet seat. Avoid slippery floors by placing a non-skid bathmat outside of the tub.
- Communication: If you have a home phone (land line), use a portable telephone that you can carry with you (most have a belt clip or can fit in a pocket) so that you are accessible to the phone and will not have to hurry to catch it when it is ringing. If you live alone or are alone for long periods, consider an emergency system (Lifeline or similar response system) with a button that is attached to you for emergencies.
- General: Wear supportive, wide-based, rubber-soled shoes that lace or close with velcro. Avoid walking barefoot or in socks – use slippers with non-skid rubber soles when walking in the house or at night. If you use an assistive device (cane, walker), make sure it is in easy reach of wherever you are, especially when you are in bed. Try to keep items you use often in easy reach and near waist level – in the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, on shelves, etc. Avoid reaching or bending whenever possible, even if it means rearranging things a little.
Unfortunately, falls are a common occurrence for people with neuromuscular diseases. If you follow the steps above and are careful about where and how you walk, you may be able to prevent hazardous environments that can lead to falls. If a slip or fall does occur, try to determine what caused it and whether there is an environmental change you can make to prevent it from happening again. If you find yourself tripping over your feet or consistently having difficulty with walking and balance, you may need an assistive device or bracing to increase your stability. Be sure to mention any falls to your ALS physician right away.