Senior Stair Safety

Fall hazards are one of the most well-documented in-home hazards to older adults, and there are many ways to reduce a senior’s risk of falling with small modifications to their home or even changing footwear, however built-in parts of a senior’s home can be harder to adapt for safety.Stairs

Stairs are one of the leading causes of falls amongst people of all ages, and are often impossible to remove or avoid, even for single-floor apartment dwellers who encounter stairs in their building’s common areas and entryways.

In this blog, we look at ways to safely navigate staircases, as well as low-impact changes that can be made to household staircases to decrease the risk of falls.

Navigating Stairs

Chances are you’ve never considered how to walk up a flight of stairs, but putting a little extra thought into this process can go a long way towards preventing a fall. Whether you are going up or down a set of stairs, remember to take your time and consider these basic guidelines:

  1. Take advantage of handrails, but do not lean or put excessive weight on the rail. Keeping your body angled forward will make maintaining balance easier.
  2. Go slow. Taking a moment to rest when you are partially up a flight of stairs will help you avoid preventable mistakes.
  3. Make sure to plant your foot fully on the middle of each step. Hanging your heel off the back of a step, or pushing your toes against the next step create significant fall risks as you shift your weight.
  4. Take a staircase one step at a time. Only bring your back leg to the step occupied by your front leg to avoid overexertion or missing your next step.

“Up with the good, down with the bad”

When traversing a set of stairs, choosing which leg to raise for every step will have a major impact on your stability. Remember the phrase “up with the good, down with the bad” to determine how to approach the stairs.

Going “up with the good”

To climb up a flight of stairs, always lead with your stronger leg, as the first leg you move will need to support most of your body weight.

  1. Begin by standing at the landing of the steps with your feet side by side. If your right leg is stronger, try to hold the banister with your right hand and vice-versa.
  2. Get a good grip on the banister and raise your strong leg to the next step.
  3. With your strong leg planted on the step, shift your weight onto this leg and bring your weaker leg in line with your strong leg. Do not try to lift your weaker leg two steps at a time, as this will put lots of weight on your weaker leg on the following step.
  4. Repeat the process by raising your strong leg first, taking breaks when needed, until you reach the top of the stairs.

Going “down with the bad”

Your body mechanics are almost completely reversed when descending stairs, with your rear leg doing the majority of the work by lowering your body weight from step to step.

  1. Begin by standing at the landing of the steps with your feet side by side. If your right leg is weaker, try to hold the banister with your right hand and vice-versa.
  2. With a firm grip on the banister, bend your stronger leg slightly and bring your weaker foot down to the next lowest step.
  3. Try to spread your weight between the banister and your weaker leg and bring your stronger foot down in a small, fast step. Do not try to take two steps at a time, as this puts much more strain on your weaker leg.
  4. Repeat the process by lowering your weaker leg first, taking breaks when needed, until you reach the bottom of the stairs.

Modifying Stairs to Improve Safety

If a senior’s home has a staircase of any size, or even a single step separating rooms, there are a number of simple changes that can be made to reduce the risk of falls:

  1. Lower the need to climb: If you or a loved one live in a multistory home, consider changing the roles of rooms to lower the need for trips up the stairs. A ground floor parlor or dining room may be repurposed as a new bedroom, or everyday toiletries can be moved from a second floor master bathroom to an easier-to-reach ground floor bathroom.
  2. Install handrails: A single handrail is required on any set of four steps or more, but installing a handrail for shorter lengths of steps will only improve safety further. Also consider installing a second handrail on the other side of a staircase, allowing the user to choose which side to use for improved stability.
  3. Improve lighting: Adding additional overhead lighting, ensuring light switches can be accessed on both landings of a staircase, or strategically placing lamps (and securing cords away from walking paths) can all improve visibility and lower fall risks.
  4. Create non-slip steps: Carpeted runners on steps or at landings can come loose over the years and bunch up, causing significant fall hazards. Make sure any carpeting material on stairs is removed or fully secured to provide stable footing.
  5. Make steps visible: It can be difficult for some people to discern where one step ends and another begins. You can avoid this hazard by marking the end of each step with high-visibility paint (tape may come loose and contribute to a fall) or securely installing non-slip mats on each step. If you do choose to add non-slip mats, consider hiring a professional who can ensure the mats will remain secure and check them frequently.
  6. Provide an assistive device: Having an assistive device like a cane at the top and bottom of the staircase may provide the support a senior needs to confidently traverse stairs, however it is critical that the user understands how to best use the device for their safety – as additional support, but not as a replacement for handrails.

Encouraging an older adult to have backed, non-slip shoes for use around the home is sometimes sufficient assistance to avoid bringing a new mobility device into the home, and can offer significant improvements in safety over walking barefoot or in socks.

  1. Modify the stairs: This approach requires more time and resources than other solutions, but gives an older adult a clean slate to create the safest possible staircase. Common modifications to improve the safety of a set of stairs include lowering the height of every step, widening each step to make foot placement more forgiving, removing lips or overhangs that may catch toes when climbing , or adding a resting point midway up the stairs.

Falling in the home can be a life changing event for older adults, and fall risks like an unsteady gait or a cluttered home can have major impacts on a senior’s ability to remain independent and active in their community.

If you worry that the risk of falling is preventing your loved one from living their best life, consider calling SelectCare today to learn how our team of home health care experts can give your family the peace of mind you deserve.