Once you start having trouble using stairs, it seems like you encounter them everywhere you go. They’re fairly easy to sidestep in public buildings where elevators are an option, but they’re a lot harder to avoid in your own home. Unfortunately falls are the top cause of injury for seniors, so using the stairs as safely as possible is of the utmost importance.
Seniors fall on stairs for a variety of reasons, but health, environmental, and behavioral reasons the most common. Health factors include reduced vision, weakness, drowsiness, loss of balance, and an inactive lifestyle. Nonexistent or defective handrails, poor lighting, and substandard tread surfaces are all environmental factors that can lead to a fall. Behavioral factors include lack of concentration, carrying objects while using stairs, and unsuitable footwear.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to combat the causes for falls and make your stairs safer to use:
Stair Safety Tips for Seniors
Clear the Deck
Keep the top and bottom of stairways clear of loose rugs — they’re a tripping hazard. Clear your stairway of any objects (such as books, shoes, etc.) and make sure that any furniture on landings doesn’t block the pathway.
Light ‘Em Up
Stairs should never have lower illumination levels than adjacent areas — that’s just a recipe for disaster. Use low-glare overhead lighting and install a stair lighting kit to ensure each step is distinctly visible. Verify there are light switches at both the bottom and the top of the stairs; if there aren’t, have them installed.
If your stairs are made of a smooth material (wood, painted, tile, etc), install rubber or abrasive treads or anti-slip tape for proper footing and grip. If your stairs are carpeted, be sure the carpeting is securely installed and not sagging or loose. The carpet should be tight against the nosing of each step. No matter what your stairs are made of, if the nosings can’t be clearly seen, paint a contrasting color stripe on each tread.
Handrails are strongly recommended — in fact, it’s suggested they be installed on both sides of the stairwell when possible. Position handrails at adult elbow height and attach them securely to walls and posts. You should be able to put your entire weight on the handrail without damaging the handrail, wall, or post. An adult must be able to wrap their hand completely around the handrails. Extend the handrails the full length of the stairs — including beyond the top and bottom.
Keep an Eye on It
Proper lighting won’t be much help if the reason you can’t see your stairs because your eyes aren’t what they used to be.
Falling Down Stair Prevention
When climbing the stairs:
Heart & Sole
If you have a slick staircase, climbing stairs in bare feet or tractionless slippers can be dangerous. When using the stairs, always wear shoes or slippers that fit properly and that have a non-slip, rubber sole.
Take Your Time
no need to rush down the stairs. A phone call or visitor at the door
can wait. Be alert, deliberate, and take your time to get down the
stairs safely. Hold on to the handrails and be extra cautious when
there is a transition between angled, shorter treads on winding
stairways and rectangular treads.
At some point in our lives, stairs become an issue for all of us. That doesn’t mean we have to stop using them entirely, it just means taking some extra precautions to make sure we do so safely.
Author Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene
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