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Avoiding Falls: Making Your Home Safe if You Have Limited Mobility

By David Freeman
WebMD Feature

People of any age can have trouble getting around the house – a teenager recovering from a sports injury, a baby boomer in rehab from a heart attack or surgery, an elderly person with arthritis or balance problems. Whether your limited mobility is temporary or permanent, there are many things you can do to make your home safer and your life easier. 

Modifying your home can be as simple as rearranging some furniture or putting in a few handrails in strategic locations. This room-by-room guide focuses on simple solutions to creating a safe haven. But it also includes more substantial measures that can be worthwhile if you have long-term mobility issues.

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Preventing Falls: Make a Smooth Entrance

Building entrances can be safety hazards, especially in bad weather. And when it’s difficult to get around, even a step or two can seem like a mountain. Make sure the path from the street to your front door is well lit and clear of objects. 

If you have stairs, make sure there’s a sturdy handrail -- on both sides, if that helps. “Adding a second banister on the other side can make a huge difference, especially if one side of the body is more impaired than the other,” says Carla A. Chase, EdD, assistant professor of occupational therapy at the Western Michigan University College of Health and Human Services in Kalamazoo. 

Even if there’s just one step that is difficult to negotiate at the front door, consider installing a grab bar. You can also rent a ramp for walkers and wheelchairs if you need a temporary solution.

Home Safety: Be Creative in the Kitchen

You can be kitchen savvy with simple solutions that minimize stretching, bending, lifting, and carrying: 

  • Don’t leave things hanging. Put pans on a countertop rack -- or simply leave them out on the stove -- instead of hanging them or putting them in a drawer. Store plates, bowls, cups, and other heavy-use items in a single, easily accessible drawer or shelf, not spread around the room. Try to reserve high shelves for things you don’t need often. 
  • Invest in a reacher. These clever, inexpensive tools have multiple uses around the house. You can retrieve items from the floor without bending over and from high shelves without using a footstool, which can be a safety hazard. In the kitchen, you can use a reacher to wipe up spills while seated or standing. 
  • Stay seated. Put sturdy chairs with arms in strategic kitchen locations so you can sit when you cut vegetables or do other kitchen tasks. “If you can do everything from a seated position, that’s ideal,” says Tracy L. Van Oss, DHSc, assistant clinical professor of occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University School of Health Science in Hamden, Conn. 
  • Let shelving do the heavy lifting. Slide-out shelving or a Lazy Susan -- a round, revolving tray -- in corner cabinets and refrigerators can make things easier to reach. A wheeled cart such as a tea cart is a little more of a financial investment but can provide extra storage and help move heavy items safely and easily. For example, use it to move a pot from the refrigerator to the cooking range. 
  • Keep the floor dry. Kitchen floors are prone to spills. Have paper towels and a reacher handy for cleanup.
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