Protecting yourself from common home injuries
The home means a lot to many people. It’s a place of contentment in an otherwise unpredictable world and it’s where you’ll find creature comforts such as a cosy bed, your favourite books or even a beloved pet. It’s a place of security, of favourite family memories, of refuge. You enjoy long baths here, eat tasty home-cooked meals, and sip tea with friends on your sunlit patio. It’s in your home where you curl up to watch TV, wind down after work, and pull out your green thumbs to get stuck into some gardening. For many, the home is the perfect place to be. But the home is also the number one place where avoidable accidents happen.
Injuries in the home
Those most at risk of injury in the home are small children and the elderly. In fact, 40% of hospitalisations in 2013–14 were for people aged 65 and over, despite this group accounting for just 13% of Australia’s population.1
Common home injuries include:
- Knife cuts
While these injuries can be serious or even fatal, generally they are preventable, especially when a little time and care is taken to protect yourself.
Falls can happen to anyone, but unfortunately, as you grow older your risk of a fall increases. Ageing causes changes in the body such as vision problems, weakening muscles, and stiff joints, plus both short-term and long-term illnesses can cause unsteadiness on the feet.
It is estimated that at least one-third of people aged 65 years and over fall one or more times a year.2
Common injuries from falls include:
- Fractures, such as of the hip and wrist
- Hip and shoulder dislocations
- Head injuries
- Abrasions, bruising and sprains
A bad home fall could mean you need to change where you live, change how active you are, or change how you care for yourself. The fear of falling again can also result in a loss of confidence and restriction of activities.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of falling, including:
- Installing grab rails in the bathroom
- Laying anti-slip mats in the bath and shower
- Wiping up spills immediately
- Removing loose rugs or mats and repairing or replacing worn areas of carpet
- Keeping pathways clear
- Wearing the right shoes
- Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle
- Eating healthy and nutritious foods
- Drinking enough fluids
- Regular exercise to strengthen weakening muscles and loosen stiffening joints
- Not walking in socks
- Making sure clothing is not too long
- Marking the edge of steps so they are easier to see
- Making sure your home has adequate lighting
- Wearing well-fitting slippers
- Taking medication only as prescribed
Airway obstruction – which includes choking, suffocation, and strangulation – is a leading cause for concern in the home, especially within young children and the elderly. As physicians working with older adults recognise, swallowing function can deteriorate with age.3 Many older adults experience dryness in the mouth and without saliva, digesting food can be challenging. It also takes longer to swallow food as you age, and when older adults feel rushed during a family dinner or allocated nursing home dinner time, their risk of choking increases again.
Common hazards to avoid include food such as chicken with bones and hard lollies.
You can also try:
- Eating more slowly
- Putting less on your plate so you don’t eat too fast
- Slicing your food thinly
- Peeling apples before serving
- Sitting up straight to eat
- Not talking while you eat
Burn injury to people over 60 years occurs at a significantly higher frequency than for any other age group, and elderly burn patients suffer greater illness and death than younger patients with similar burn extents.4 Older adults should be especially careful not to go near water that is too hot, as the skin contains less moisture and can burn more easily.
Ways to lower your risk of burns include:
- Installing smoke alarms and testing them monthly
- Making a fire escape plan
- Having a professional electrician inspect wiring
- Having your fireplace and chimney cleaned
- Keeping a large fire extinguisher
- Wearing gloves when handling chemicals
- Throwing out frayed or damaged electrical cords
- Not smoking in the home
- Not wearing long, loose sleeves when cooking
- Setting the temperature on your water heater to 48ºC or the “low-medium” setting
- Turning handles of pots and pans away from the sides of the stove
- Testing the water before getting in the bath or shower
Poisoning is also a significant risk for the elderly, and the majority of poisonings result from the improper use, improper storage or mistaken identity of a medication.5
Seniors who take multiple medications are at increased risk for poisoning.
To reduce your risk of poisoning you should:
- Keep a list of all your medications, including dosage and frequency
- Learn about your medications and possible reactions or side effects
- Maintain a schedule
- Communicate with your doctor and pharmacist about any other medications or supplements you might be taking
As you grow older, the need to pay greater care and attention to even the most minor of cuts is required. Skin becomes thinner with age and loses some of the moisture and connective tissue support that makes it strong. This means that a cut may often be more serious than it would be in the case of a younger person.
To best avoid knife cuts:
- Keep knives sharp so that you don’t have to work so hard to cut food
- Keep the fingers of your free hand tucked away from the blade
- Don’t leave knives submerged in water when washing up
- Store knives safely
30 May 2016