Fall Prevention and Aging in Place in Your Home's Landscape

Demonstrating Aging In Place Independence In The Garden

Aging in Place? Here Are Some Tips to Prevent Outdoor Falls

Do you know one of the top 10 fears for older adults? Ending up in a nursing home after getting injured in a fall. It makes sense. According to the California-based organization, Stop Falls Center of Excellence, “falls are the leading cause of injury deaths, unintentional injuries and hospital admissions for trauma for older adults.” 

Are you aware of the statistics on falls? Here are some facts from StopFalls.org:
• For active younger seniors, falls are generally outdoors and occur when engaging in physical activities like walking or gardening.
• For the “old old” falls usually happen inside the home.
• 24% of falls happen outdoors near the home.
• 23% of falls occur outdoors away from home.

A recent NY Times article outlined some of the risks of falling for Baby Boomers and older seniors.  Falling, and the possibility of a broken hip that requires a move to a nursing home are two of the biggest fears of aging Americans. You might think that you'll be immune to falling, and you're not alone.

Geriatricians report that many of us don't recognize fall risks as we get older. Our sense of balance changes with age, and common medications can cause dizziness. Medicines like those given for high blood pressure or depression and even antibiotics and pain medications can affect your balance and put you at risk for a fall. 

Three Tips for Reducing Falls In Public Places

When it comes to potential falls away from home, whether you're walking around the park or just going to the store, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your risk of falls.

Taking simple precautions can lower your risk of injury away from home. It starts by paying attention to your surroundings. Here are three tips to keep you safe when you're away from home:

1. Be aware of where and when you walk
In the evening, walk where there is plenty of light. Check for hazards like fallen leaves or tree roots, cracks, holes or changes in sidewalk levels. During stormy weather, remember rain, snow or ice can make any surface slippery. Wear shoes or boots that provide traction on slick surfaces. If you wear glasses, be aware that bifocals or today's multi-level progressives can affect depth perception, making it harder to see hazards on the ground. Glare can be tough on your eyes, too. On bright days, especially bright hazy days, try sunglasses designed to control glare.

2. Tips for outdoor exercise
If walking is your exercise of choice, consider going to well-maintained places like the mall or the track at your local high school. Walk with a buddy so you can let each other know of potential hazards. Always wear the proper footwear. Make sure your shoes have firm soles and low heels. Always wear sturdy shoes when exercising.

3. Be safe when you travel
Use handrails when climbing stairs outdoors. Adopt the three-point standard safety practice used by workers in construction or industrial sites. Practice having three points of the body always on the stairs - two feet and a hand on the railing. When in a parking lot or garage, look for curbs, car stops, and changes in elevation. It's easy to trip, especially when a small step is the same color as the surrounding pavement. If you take public transportation, always use handrails when available and when crossing the street, walk in the crosswalk and use curb cuts when possible.

View Our Well-Being Classes - The Garden Academy

Fall Prevention Awareness Week happens every September. Why not get together with a few of your neighbors to conduct a Pedestrian Walkability Audit. The AARP has a program called Create the Good that's designed to connect people and tools for community betterment projects. Their Sidewalks and Streets Survey is a great tool. It offers a sample survey. Instructions for organizing a walkability audit, and suggestions for how to change things in your community based on the results. 

Reduce the Risk of Falling Outdoors With Elderyarding

If you've already made independent living renovations like installing grab bars in the shower and widening doors to reduce fall risks inside your home, it's time to check outdoors. Looking at your yard, it might appear to be low risk because it's familiar. But when it comes to potential falls around your yard or garden, it's never too late to do an outdoor safety audit to identify and correct risks.

Aging in Place Fall Prevention Ideas For Your Garden

Avoiding Falls In The Landscape

Taking a look at a mature, historic garden can help us become more aware of outdoor risks. I had the chance to visit the family home of Fuller Callaway, the Hills and Dales Estate in Georgia. Its beautiful gardens were started by Nancy Ferrell in 1832. The estate was opened to the public in 2004, and I highly recommend that you visit if you're ever in the area. The home and grounds are splendid.

Because the gardens are over 100 years old, I found many great ideas that could be translated to a home garden.

I also encountered examples of potential problems in a home landscape that can be alleviated using an aging in place design following my Elderyard recommendations.

The following are potential risks that can cause falling around your home garden.
• A tripping hazard caused by that beautiful big tree you planted years ago
• A surface near a bench where the paving needs repair or a metal edging is loose
• A mulch path covered with sticks and pinecones that make the surface unstable and slippery
• Stairs of different heights instead of the even step up and down that you expect
• Short groups of dark-shade-to-bright-sunlight patterns on the path that require your eyes to quickly adjust back and forth

Clearly, the landscaping at the Hills and Dales Estate is beautifully designed and well-maintained. Because this was an unfamiliar garden, I examined it in careful detail. After an experience like this, I encourage my readers to take a closer look at the landscaping around your home and consider whether aging in place landscape design is right for you. Maybe it's familiar, and you're used to navigating uneven stairs, wet leaves on the walkway, or shade dense enough to hide tree roots above the ground. By visiting and studying unfamiliar natural areas, you'll begin to see your own outdoor space differently, with an eye to reducing the risk of falls around your home. Being aware of fall risks will keep you aging well and enjoying your outdoor space safely for many years.