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Seniors, Safety and Stairs

Declining muscle strength and increasing physical limitations mean that navigating stairs becomes more challenging for seniors. That's why they are more likely to fall than younger adults. Seniors who fall are more likely to sustain serious injuries, including fractures. Falling may also cause seniors to lose confidence in their abilities, which can lead to social withdrawal.

Up to 15% of all falls by seniors involve stairs. Sustaining a fall also increases the chances of a senior moving into a nursing home. FORTY PER-CENT of nursing home admissions are fall-related, and an independent senior who experiences a fall is 3 times more likely to move into a care facility.

Here are some safety tips from the Public Health Agency of Canada. You can use them to have a conversation with your parents about these risks...and ways to prevent falls.

Hazards on Stairs:  Lighting, Handrails, and General Conditions

  • Are the stairs well lit, with light switches at the top and bottom?  If not, explore ways to install extra lighting.
  • Is there a handrail?  Is it well secured and at the proper height? Hint: the height should allow the senior to use the handrail comfortably, with the elbow slightly bent.
  • Should you have two handrails - one on each side of the stairs? 
  • Check the condition of floor coverings on stairs. Does your tile or linoleum have  loose edges?  Is your carpet securely fastened?  Consider replacing carpet with rubber stair treading.
  • Can you see the edge of each stair clearly?  If not, consider adding a contrasting color on edges - either with paint or adhesive strips.

Change some habits to increase safety on stairs:

  • Wearing glasses - or not? Do you wear your reading glasses when taking the stairs?  Are you still getting used to those new bifocals?  Make sure you can see the stairs clearly, going up and going down.
  • Proper footwear. Are those old slippers comfortable but unsafe?  Also, stocking feet can slip on stairs.  Try out a new pair of comfortable shoes with proper supports and grips.
  • Carrying. Do you carry objects in both hands?  Keep one hand on the rail, and make an extra trip instead. Use a laundry bag rather than a laundry basket.
  • Clutter. Do you often place things on the stairs - to take up on your next trip?  Obstacles on stairs can cause or contribute to a fall.

Some factors that can contribute to a fall on the stairs may be out of anyone's control and the list of dangers may seem long.  But the risks of using stairs can be offset by the benefits of weight-bearing exercise: maintaining some muscle strength and helping keep bones strong. 

So, don't avoid the stairs. Instead, manage the risks by removing danger factors and employing safe stair practices!

For more information, visit:

Public Health Agency Canada

Steps to Safer Stairs:

Vol.3, No.3

� ElderWise Inc. 2007.
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