Fall injuries aren't something that most people think much about on a day-to-day basis, let alone take specific measures to avoid. But as people who have experienced a serious fall injury can attest to, falling is a very serious threat that many adults just can't afford to ignore.
Your risk of falling inevitably increases as you age, but your risk may be even higher if you have COPD. That's because, while COPD doesn't cause falls directly, it does cause a variety of physical effects that can significantly increase your risk of having a fall.
Studies show that people with COPD are both more likely to experience accidental falls and more likely to get severely injured from falling compared to similarly-aged adults without COPD. And this is no minor risk; according to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury-related and accidental death in adults over the age of 65.
Fortunately, many—if not most—falls are avoidable, and there are plenty of ways to reduce your risk of falling if you have COPD. And since the place that you're most likely to experience a fall is at home, thoroughly fall-proofing your house is one of the best things you can do to prevent accidental falls.
That's why we created this guide to explain everything you need to know to get started fall-proofing your home for COPD. In it, you'll learn how to identify common fall hazards and make a variety of practical safety improvements to fall-prone areas in your home.
We'll also take a closer look at the link between COPD and falling to help you better understand the magnitude of the risk. You'll learn about how COPD exacerbates fall risk factors, how it affects recovery from fall injuries, and how people with COPD can benefit from fall-proofing in a variety of different ways.
Our goal is to show you that fall-proofing is worth the effort and provide you with practical fall-proofing knowledge that you can put to use in your home right away. We hope that the strategies, tips, and resources in this guide will inspire you and empower you to make your home a safer environment for living with COPD.
COPD & Falling: What's the Risk?
Every year, more than one quarter of adults over the age of 65 have a fall. Among people with COPD, the rate is significantly higher: studies show that COPD patients are 55% more likely than non-COPD patients to have a history of falling, and that they have about 85% more falls, on average, compared to people without COPD.
While the association between COPD and falling might seem strange at first, it makes sense if you consider the multitude of ways that COPD can affect your balance and mobility. For example, COPD symptoms (like shortness of breath) can make you feel lightheaded and unsteady, while COPD-related health complications (like osteoporosis) can increase your risk of breaking a bone if you fall.
COPD is also associated with numerous well-known fall risk factors (PDF link), including muscle weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue. It's also associated with an increased risk of getting injured from falling, and a more difficult time recovering from injuries caused by falls
In the following sections, we're going to take a closer look at these and other COPD-related fall risk factors to better understand the relationship between falling and COPD. We'll also discuss how COPD impacts recovery, and why fall injuries tend to be more serious in people with COPD.
How does COPD make you more susceptible to falling?
It might seem surprising that COPD, as a respiratory condition, could affect your risk of falling. However, COPD is a complex disease that has a wide variety of effects on the body, many of which can affect your balance and susceptibility to falls.
If you or someone you love has COPD, understanding these effects can give you a better idea of what kinds of fall hazards you need to look out for. It can also help you focus your fall-prevention strategy on the things that are most likely to pose a danger to people with COPD.
COPD symptoms can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even drowsy at times, which can easily throw off your balance and make you more likely to fall. This could happen during a bout of coughing or breathlessness for example, or when you're feeling fatigued.
Certain COPD medications can also make you dizzy or drowsy, which increases your risk of accidents, including falls. The risk might be even higher if you take other medications (e.g blood pressure medications) or take multiple medications (including over-the-counter medications) that interact with one another or have compounding side-effects.
Other Health Complications Caused by COPD
COPD can cause a variety of other health problems that can increase your risk of falling, usually because they affect your ability to balance or reduce your physical strength. For example, chronic hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels) is a common COPD complication that can cause you to frequently feel lightheaded and unsteady on your feet.
COPD also increases your risk for a variety of cardiovascular problems (such as high blood pressure and right-sided heart failure) that can lower your blood oxygen levels and make you feel dizzy as well. The worst thing about dizziness from low oxygen levels is that it tends to strike during physical activities (e.g. walking, standing up, and climbing stairs), which is when you need your balance the most.
Having COPD can also interfere with your ability to do activities that help you maintain muscle strength and balance, including exercise, eating, and getting enough sleep. Many people with COPD also suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, which is another known risk factor for falls.
What's more, some research suggests that having COPD can reduce balance and stability irrespective of the factors mentioned above. While researchers are still unsure why that is, some believe it could be related to a kind of nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy) that is relatively common in people with COPD.
How Does COPD Increase Your Risk of Injury (from Falling)?
In addition to increasing your chances of falling, COPD also increases your chances of getting seriously injured when you fall. The main reasons for this are muscle weakness and osteoporosis, both of which are quite common in people with COPD.
|Image from OpenStax.|
COPD makes it difficult to exercise and stay active, which (in addition to other factors, like inflammation and malnutrition) often leads to physical decline. One of the biggest contributors to this decline is the loss of muscle mass and resulting muscle weakness, which is a major risk factor for falls.
Muscle strength is not only important for maintaining balance, but also for being able to “catch yourself” and avoid getting hurt when you fall. This can cause you to fall harder or land in a way that causes you to get injured; e.g. on top of a hard object or on a fragile bone or limb.
People with COPD also tend to have risk factors that make them more prone to osteoporosis; these risk factors include things like older age, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and chronic inflammation (a common symptom of COPD). Some medications used to treat COPD symptoms—particularly steroid medications, including steroid inhalers—can also increase the risk of bone density loss and osteoporosis over time.
Osteoporosis weakens your bones and makes them more brittle, which can cause them to break from even little accidents like minor bumps and falls. One study found that COPD patients were 50% more likely to have osteoporosis than people without COPD and were 1.6 times as likely to have suffered a major osteoporosis-related bone fracture.
Unfortunately, people with very severe COPD symptoms often have trouble eating and exercising enough to keep their bones and bodies strong. Because of this, those with advanced COPD tend to have a higher risk for osteoporosis, muscle weakness, and getting severely injured from a fall compared to those with milder COPD symptoms.
To learn more about COPD and osteoporosis, check out our guide on that topic here.
How COPD Can Make Recovery Harder After a Fall
Having a chronic health condition like COPD can make recovering from injuries harder, even injuries that are completely unrelated to COPD. The opposite is true as well: unrelated injuries can make your COPD worse by making it harder to to take care of yourself and manage your COPD.
A fall injury that makes it difficult to walk or requires hospitalization, for example, could prevent you from exercising for weeks or even months at a time. In the time it takes to recover, you could lose much of your strength and endurance as well as the many other health benefits you get from regular exercise.
This alone can have far-reaching health consequences, including worsened COPD symptoms and an increased risk of developing other health problems like heart disease. Long periods of inactivity can also increase your risk of falling in the future due to decreased muscle strength, balance, and increased COPD symptoms like breathlessness and fatigue.
What's more, if you have a fall that requires you to be hospitalized, having COPD could complicate your treatment. It could make certain procedures like surgery more risky, for example, or limit the number of medications that doctors can safely prescribe you in addition to the medications you're already taking for COPD.
Being hospitalized can also be dangerous in and of itself because it can increase your risk of getting sick from certain types of infections (e.g. hospital-acquired pneumonia) that can be especially deadly for people with COPD. Unfortunately, because COPD weakens the lung's defenses against infection, COPD patients are particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections both in general and during prolonged hospital stays.
As you can see, falls can result in more than just a single injury; they can set off a chain of consequences that can affect your strength, your mobility, and your ability to manage your COPD long term. That's why avoiding accidental falls is vital for maintaining your physical independence and maintaining a good quality of life as you age.
The Benefits of Fall-Proofing: Why It's Worth the Hassle
Fall-proofing can do more than just prevent falls and fall injuries; it can make your home a more comfortable—and more accessible—place to live with COPD. It can help you conserve energy, stay independent, and even build up the confidence to do a wider range of activities around your home.
Now that you better understand how COPD can make you vulnerable to falling, you can hopefully see why fall prevention for COPD patients is such a serious concern. Now, let's take a look at what you can gain from fall-proofing, and why it's more than worth the time and effort it takes to fall-proof your home.
Reduced Risk of Injury and Hospitalization from Falls
It goes without saying that the main point of fall-proofing is to reduce the risk that you (or someone else in your household) will fall and get injured in your home. However, we do want to emphasize why preventing falls is so important by showing you how bad even a “minor” fall can be.
First, it's important to know that serious fall injuries among older adults are very common. CDC research shows that one-fifth of falls cause serious injury, and that 3 million older adults are admitted to the emergency room for fall injuries every year.
Second, you should know that even ground-level falls (falls from standing height or lower) can result in a wide range of serious injuries, including broken bones and head injuries. These injuries can require long recovery periods, long hospital stays, and sometimes even serious medical procedures like surgery before they can fully heal.
Unfortunately, recovering from fall injuries is often especially difficult—and particularly lengthy—for older adults and people with chronic diseases like COPD. Injuries in older adults are also more likely to result in permanent health problems, including muscle weakness, loss of physical mobility, and chronic pain.
The lasting effects from fall injuries can lead to further physical decline can make it difficult—or impossible—to return to the life you had before. In this way, fall injuries can have huge, long-term effects on your quality of life even long after they heal.
It's also important to acknowledge that some people never make it out of the hospital or home recovery because they die of their injuries or complications during recovery. In fact, studies show that deaths from falls in adults over the age of 65 have steadily increased in recent years.
Increased Confidence At Home
One of the more difficult parts of living with COPD is the gradual decline in physical ability, which can have a huge effect on just about every part of your life. Along with that often comes a sense of fear and vulnerability that can further restrict what kinds of activities you do.
Studies show that a large number of senior adults restrict their activities for fear of falling, and that this can have a significant negative effect on their quality of life. It's often not even a conscious decision; you just slowly start to limit yourself to the areas and activities that feel safest, not realizing what you've given up along the way.
You might be surprised at how much fall-proofing can improve your sense of safety and security at home. It can even boost your sense of confidence in your own abilities and help you feel less limited by COPD.
Increased Comfort & Convenience at Home
Making the effort to fall-proof your home will not only make it safer, but also much more functional and comfortable to use. That's because getting rid of fall hazards makes your home easier to navigate in general, which is a particularly important benefit for people with COPD.
This can make a huge difference during COPD exacerbations or anytime your feeling breathless and fatigued. It can also help reduce the stresses of daily life just a little by making it easier to get around when you're in a hurry or have your hands full.
More Energy and Independence
Fall-proofing can help you adapt your home environment to one that's much better suited to your mobility needs. In this way, fall-proofing can allow you to do more activities independently and generally expand the range of activities that you can do safely in your home.
For example, fall-proofing often involves adding practical tools (like shower chairs and handlebars by the toilet) that make it easier to do regular household tasks. This can allow you to live more independently and do more everyday things around the house on your own.
By making your home more accessible, fall-proofing can also help you conserve energy, which is often in short supply for people with COPD. Then, you can use that saved energy on other things, allowing you to do more and accomplish more throughout the day.
How to Fall-Proof Your Home For COPD
Now that we've covered the basics of why fall-proofing is important, it's time to learn exactly how to fall-proof your home for COPD. In the following sections, we'll go through all the major steps of fall-proofing, showing you plenty of practical strategies you can use to address a wide range of fall hazards in your own home.
But that's not all; toward the end of this guide, you'll find a curated list of expert resources and thorough fall-proofing checklists you can use. And in the very last section, we'll discuss a variety of other things (besides fall-proofing) that you can do to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling if you have COPD.
How to Make Your Floors Fall-Proof: It's All About Where You Step
The surfaces you walk on have a major impact on your balance and fall risk, which is why the majority of fall-prevention strategies focus on floors. That includes the floors themselves as well as the obstacles that end up on them, such as furniture, doorway thresholds, power cords, and rugs.
Unfortunately, no matter what kinds of floors you have or how clean you keep them, walking on them will always carry some risk. However, you can reduce those risks substantially by eliminating trip hazards and making simple—yet effective—safety improvements to your floors.
Beware of Rugs
When you think about floor fall hazards, rugs probably aren't the first things that come to mind. But even though they might seem harmless, rugs are the most common—and possibly most dangerous—trip hazards in the home.
Studies show that rugs cause a significant number of fall injuries. In the US alone, nearly 17,400 adults over the age of 65 have to be treated for fall injuries associated with rugs every year.
However, not all rugs are created equal; some rugs are much more likely to cause falls than others, and—in some situations—certain types of rugs can actually help prevent falls. The difference comes down to a few different factors: what kind of rug you're using, where you place it, and what you're using it for.
Throw rugs, for example, are particularly easy to trip on, especially when their edges get curled up, folded, or frayed. Additionally, most throw rugs are not (or cannot be) secured in place properly, meaning they can easily shift, slip, and bunch up under your feet.
On the other hand, non-slip rugs can be safe to use on hard flooring, as long as they're properly designed and they firmly stay in place. In fact, non-slip rugs can actually help you avoid slipping on slick patches on floors that tend to get wet, like your entryway, bathroom, or in front of the kitchen sink.
Unfortunately, even non-slip rugs can be a trip hazard, especially if they're bulky, damaged, or poorly placed. That's why it's important to only use rugs where they're really needed, and to carefully consider whether a particular rug's potential safety benefits are worth its potential risks.
One thing that all fall-prevention experts agree on, however, is that getting rid of loose, decorative throw rugs should be a first priority when fall-proofing any home. When it comes to non-slip rugs, however, evidence is mixed, though many experts agree that non-slip rugs can be beneficial when used cautiously and sparingly on potentially-slippery floors.
Here are some basic rules and criteria for using non-slip rugs safely in your home:
- Only use non-slip rugs with rubber backing that firmly grips the floor.
- Choose thinner rugs over bulky ones; it's more of a trip hazard the farther it sticks up from the floor.
- Ideally, you should use non-slip rugs with tapered edges that sit flush (or as flush as possible) with the floor.
- Only use non-slip rugs on hard floor surfaces where they can get an adequate grip and stay in place (e.g. tile, hardwood, acrylic, smooth concrete, etc.)
- Consider placing non-slip rugs on hard-floored areas near places that get wet, which can include your entryway, bathrooms, any anywhere else that's near a water source like a shower, washer, or sink.
- Make sure the floor is completely dry before placing a rug; any moisture trapped underneath the rug (e.g. from water splashes or mopping) could cause the rug to slip.
Keep Up With Floor Maintenance & Repairs
Keeping your carpet and other flooring in good repair should always be a top home maintenance priority, especially for people with mobility-limiting conditions like COPD. Unfortunately, damaged flooring is one of those inconvenient problems that far too often get ignored.
People often put off floor repairs due to the expense and/or effort it takes to complete them, not realizing how big of a risk they are taking. In reality, floor damage is a major cause of fall injuries, and every day that you ignore it is a day that you put yourself (and others in in your household) in unnecessary danger.
Here are some common types of damage to look out for on different types of floors:
- Carpeting: any carpet areas that don't lie flat and flush with the floor, including places where it's torn, bunched up, or curling up at the edges
- Hardwood Flooring: floorboards that are loose, warped, cracked, split, or sticking up from the floor
- Linoleum and Vinyl Flooring: any places that are warped, cracked, stickup up, or peeling at the edges
- Tiled Flooring: any places where the grout has worn down or chipped out, or where the tiles are uneven, cracked, or chipped.
Another part of floor maintenance is keeping up with basic tasks like sweeping, mopping, and spot-cleaning your floors. You should always clean drips, spills, and debris from the floor as quickly as possibly, and make sure to let your floors dry thoroughly after cleaning to prevent slips and falls.
Remember that even problems that seem minor can cause serious accidents that cost much more in time, money, and suffering than doing a simple clean-up or repair. That's why you should always take action before a loose floorboard, curled carpet corner, or cooking oil splatter causes your or a loved one to take a nasty fall.
Keep Walkways and Hallways Open
|Image from Jodiemichelle.|
The most high-traffic areas in the home are hallways and walkways, which include all the typical paths you take when walking through your home. You're more likely to trip or lose your balance if these walkways are narrow and crowded, which is why you should strive to keep these areas open, spacious, and clear.
To do this, you need to be mindful about how you arrange your space. Avoid crowding small rooms with bulky items, for example, and don't let your furniture encroach on walking space.
Ideally, you should have plenty of room to get from one place to another without any obstacles getting in your way. This is especially important for older adults with COPD and other health conditions who have mobility limitations or use mobility aids (e.g. a walker, cane, or scooter).
Though you might have to do some downsizing or furniture re-arranging, it's more than worth it to free up that extra room. You'll not only be less likely to fall while walking, but you'll also have more open, functional space in your home to enjoy.
Keep Your Floors Free From Obstacles & Clutter
Nobody enjoys having to pick their way around clutter just to get around their own home. But for people with COPD, these things are more than just an inconveniences; they're serious potential fall hazards and, in some cases, hindrances that make it a challenge to do normal activities around the home.
That's why it's important to keep all of the walking areas in your house free from obstacles, including loose items, debris, bulky furniture, and—of course—non-secured rugs. Some of the biggest culprits in this category include pet toys, shoes, clothing, wires, and power cords.
The best way to reduce your risk of tripping over obstacles is to keep your home neat and orderly to begin with. If you keep clutter minimized and make sure all your belongings have a place, things are much less likely to end up on the floor.
It's also important to get in the habit of picking things up as soon as you notice them, even when it's tempting to just step over them for now. You should also move furniture and other items that obstruct any part of a hallway or walkway so you're less likely to trip or stub your toe when walking by.
Even if you're used to simply avoiding certain obstacles, you're still putting yourself at a greater risk of falling over time. Even if you're used to it, you never know when you might accidentally trip over something in the dark, or simply lose your balance while trying to step around an obstacle that you've been able to avoid a hundred times before.
It's also important to consider built-in house features that create bumps or uneven surfaces on the floor. This includes things like raised doorway thresholds, bulky floor vent covers, and uneven floor transitions (e.g. the junction where carpet meets tile).
Here are some additional tips for getting rid of obstacles and other floor hazards that increase your risk for a fall:
- Avoid putting furniture or shelving in or along your hallways or other narrow walkways in your home.
- Be mindful about where you plug in cords and where you string them; always avoid stretching them across walking areas or leaving them out on the floor.
- If you have no choice but to string a cable across the ground—especially if it's going to be there long-term—cover it with a non-trip cable cover to make it more flush with the ground and/or cover it in brightly-colored tape so that it's easier to see.
- Have a designated place to keep pet's and kid's toys, and regularly check for toys that get left behind on the ground.
- Remove raised doorway thresholds (and all other raised floor features) and repair any gaps left behind to make the floor as flat and seamless as possible.
- If you can't remove a door threshold or repair another raised floor feature (e.g. an uneven transition), cover it with brightly-colored, non-slip textured tape.
Fall-Proof Your Stairs
Stairs are one of the biggest mobility obstacles for older adults and people with mobility-limiting diseases like COPD. Unfortunately, despite being a major fall hazard, navigating stairs is a necessary part of life for a large number of older adults and COPD patients who have staircases in their homes.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of slipping or losing your balance on your stairs. These include making your stairs more grippy, improving their visibility, and installing extra hand railings to help you stabilize yourself when going up or down the stairs.
|Non-slip grip tape. Image from Sean Bonner.|
Here are a some specific strategies you can use to fall-proof your stairs.
- Affix brightly-colored strips of tape to your steps in alternating colors to make the contrast easier to see, and consider placing slip-proof strips to the top of hardwood steps.
- If you use tape on your floors or your steps, regularly examine it for worn areas, tears, and peeling edges; promptly fix any damage you see.
- If you have hard floor steps, consider putting on a pair non-slip socks or slippers before taking the stairs.
- Always avoid setting anything down on the stairs or at the top or bottom of a staircase, even temporarily (you might forget to pick it up).
- If you have pets or children, make sure to pick up their toys from your stairs and walkways, and always check where you step in case there's an unexpected toy in the way.
- If you use supplemental oxygen, be especially mindful of your oxygen tubing while going up and down the stairs; try to keep it from dragging and don't let it get snagged on a handrail or the edge of a step.
- Check your stair handrails for sturdiness; if you notice any looseness or wobbling, make sure to promptly get them repaired.
- If your stairs have only on one handrail, consider installing a second handrail so you have hand-holds to support you on both sides.
Here's one final tip: you know those items that you always need to take with you (e.g. keys, wallet, purse, jacket, etc.) when you leave your house? Consider storing these things right by your entryway on the ground level, that way you can keep your hands free in the staircase and, even if you forget something, you won't have to make an extra trip up and down the stairs.
Using Strategic Lighting to Reduce Your Risk of Falling at Home
Being able to see where you're stepping is vital for avoiding trips and falls, which is why it's important to make sure you have adequate lighting in your home. You also need to be able to access those lights from strategic places so that you don't have to walk any substantial distance in the dark.
This is an aspect of fall-proofing that's often overlooked and underrated, even though poor lighting is often a factor in falls. This is especially true for older adults, as aging tends to bring about eyesight problems including a reduced ability to adjust to changing light levels.
In the following sections, we'll show you to improve and fine-tune your home's lighting to ensure that you always have a bright path to follow through the dark. We'll even give you tips for using a variety of creative stand-alone lighting solutions like illuminated switches, motion-sensing lights, and remote-control bulbs.
Lighting the Way Ahead
In order to ensure that you can always see where you're going, you need to have consistent lighting throughout your entire house. This is especially important along major pathways such as staircases, entryways, hallways, and other areas you regularly walk through to get from room to room.
For example, you should have a light switch both at the bottom and the top of every staircase so you can turn the light on or off from either end. You should also have easy-to-reach switches along the path from your bedroom to your bathroom and anywhere else you might have to get up and go to in the middle of the night.
For example, you could keep a lamp on your bedside table to light your way safely through the bedroom and into the hall. From there, you should be able to reach the next switch you need to light the hallway, which should guide you to the next switch, and so on.
If there's no hallway switch near your bedroom doorway, you could use a standing lamp or plug-in night lights to brighten the area outside the room. The goal is to never have to walk any distance in the dark; this is especially important in the early mornings and late evenings when you're likely to be drowsy and more prone than usual to having a fall.
If you have poor eyesight or have trouble finding light switches in dim lighting, you could replace your regular switches with ones that light up or glow in the dark. While this requires a bit of installation, it can help you get around much more safely and efficiently at night.
When Built-in Lighting Isn't Enough: Adding Convenient Lighting Throughout Your Home
Unfortunately, many people live in places with poorly-planned lighting schemes that just aren't very accessible to those with special mobility needs. Some simply don't have enough switches—or have switches in inconvenient places—while some older homes have barely any built-in lighting at all.
Fortunately, there are plenty of cheap and simple ways to improve your lighting situation without having to do any permanent installations or electric wiring work. All you need are some stand-alone light sources, such as floor lamps, plug-in night lights, or remote-controlled light bulbs to place strategically around your home.
Night-lights (especially low-light or motion-sensing versions) are particularly useful for lighting hallways, bedrooms, or bathrooms at night. Even if they're too dim to be adequate on their own, they can help “bridge” the gap between light switches so you don't have to feel around for them in the dark.
Remote-controlled light-bulbs allow you to operate lights from a distance, making it possible to turn a light on and off from anywhere in the room. The best part is that they can be installed into any existing light fixture, including lamps and overhead lights.
Of course, having a great lighting system won't do you much good unless you can actually utilize it properly. In order to do so, you'll need to stay on top of maintenance (e.g. replacing bunt-out bulbs promptly) and get in the habit of turning on the lights ahead of you as you walk about your home.
Fall-Proofing Other Problem Areas in Your House
|Image from Wikimedia Commons.|
So far, we've mostly discussed the fall risks associated with walking, and how to mitigate those risks by fall-proofing your floors, lighting, and stairs. However, it's important to note that walking around your home isn't the only time that you're at risk for having a fall.
In the strictest sense, it's possible to fall pretty much any time you're upright or doing any kind of motion; however, certain actions and activities are much more likely than others to cause a fall. For example, your risk of falling is particularly high when changing position (e.g. getting out of bed or standing up from a sitting position), or when you're in a slippery environment like your shower or tub.
Unfortunately, people with COPD tend to struggle with these kinds of activities in particular because they require an amount of effort that often leads to breathlessness and fatigue. This can result in lightheadedness and muscle instability that makes people with COPD more likely to lose their balance and fall.
For example, showering carries a particularly high risk for falling in general due to the slippery environment and the amount of bodily maneuvering it requires. But showering is even more dangerous for people with COPD, since the heat, humidity, and the exertion of washing are common triggers for COPD symptoms.
Fortunately, there are all kinds of tools and adaptive equipment that are specifically designed to make showering and other risky activities safer. These include things like shower chairs, handlebars, grippy bathtub mats, and more.
While we don't have time in this post to discuss all of these tools in detail, we do want to go over a few of the most useful tools. In particular, we want to go over safety devices for your bathroom, shower, and for helping you keep your balance when standing up and sitting down.
Fall-Proofing Your Shower
Though we've already talked at length about rugs and slippery floors, there is a lot more to fall-proofing a bathroom than just laying out a non-slip rug. You also have to consider the shower, which is one of the most dangerous places (in terms of falling) in the home.
First of all, it's a good idea to use a shower chair instead of just standing, especially if you tend to get breathless while you bathe. This will not only help you save energy, but also reduces your risk of slipping and falling if you end up feeling breathless or fatigued.
A removable shower head is also a great tool, especially when paired with a shower chair. Being able to aim the water yourself makes it easier to shower while sitting, and it means you don't have to strain or move around as much to position yourself underneath the water flow.
It also helps to place a non-slip, rubber mat at the bottom of your shower or tub to help you get more traction with your feet. You might also consider installing hand-holds or hand-rails both inside and outside your shower to help you stabilize yourself on the slippery floor.
If you have a tub instead of a walk-in shower, you can also use an expensive tool known as a transfer bench to bridge the edge of the tub. This allows you to pivot yourself in and out of the tub while sitting, thus reducing your risk of slipping or losing your balance while stepping in.
Tools to Reduce Your Risk of Falling When Standing Up & Sitting Down
|Image from Esther Max.|
Setting yourself down or getting up from a sitting position are both actions that take a lot of strength and coordination. This can be very difficult for older adults, especially those who suffer from muscle weakness and breathlessness caused by COPD.
Luckily, there are several different strategies and devices that can help you sit or stand up easier from any kind of seat. These include stability tools like handrails and equipment that helps raise seats up higher so it doesn't take as much effort lift yourself up or lower yourself down.
Here's a quick overview of these and some other seating-assistance tools:
- Cushion risers: these are inexpensive seat accessories that add a few extra inches of height to the seat of a chair; you can get them for all kinds of different seat types, including including couches, dining chairs, armchairs, stools, and toilet seats.
- Lift Armchair or Recliner: these chairs have seats that can be moved upward into a position that makes it easier to stand up and sit down.
- Bed rails: this is a railing that goes next to the side of your bed so that you can grasp it for stability when getting in or out of your bed.
- Hand Rails, Chair Rails & seat Risers: falls in the living room are common, so consider installing hand rails (or using seat risers) near your couch and armchairs so you have some extra support when getting up and sitting down.
Other Fall-Proofing Resources
Though we've tried to cover a wide variety of COPD fall hazards and fall-proofing strategies, we can't cover everything there is to know in a single post. That means your home could still harbor additional fall hazards that we haven't considered or covered in this guide.
That's why it's always a good idea look at a variety of different resources for advice; you'll get a much fuller picture from multiple places than you can get from just one source. This gives you more opportunities to learn about niche solutions and special considerations for fall-proofing that might apply to you.
To help you get started, here are a few fall-proofing guides and checklists made by reputable organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the CDC:
- Fall-proofing checklist from the CDC
- Fall-proofing checklist from the AARP
- Guide on fall-proofing your home from the National Institute on Aging run by the National Institutes of Health
- Fall-proofing guide from the University of Michigan Health.
If you're interested in learning about other ways you can adapt your home to be more COPD-friendly, check out our guide on how to make your home a more comfortable, luxurious place to live with COPD.
Other Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Falling if You Have COPD
Taking care of fall hazards around the home is just one of several ways to prevent falls if you have COPD. Other solutions include strengthening your body with exercise training and making other long-term habit and lifestyle changes.
Exercise Training to Improve Strength & Balance
As we discussed at the beginning of this guide, weak muscles and osteoporosis are major fall risk factors in people with COPD. The good news is that regular exercise can mitigate both of those problems and help you maintain—or regain—your balance control.
Bones and muscles operate on a “use it or lose it” system, which is why it's so important to stay active in older age. But even if you've already lost some bone and muscle density, it's possible to get at least some of it back through exercise training.
This is true even if your capacity for exercise is limited because of COPD or osteoporosis. You just have to start very slow, only doing what you can you can manage without getting too breathless, and work your way up to more physical activity over time.
Any exercise you can do is better than nothing, and it can make a noticeable difference in your balance, stability, and fine motor control. If you need help getting started, you can always consult an exercise specialist, or talk to your doctor about joining a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
For more information about to exercise with COPD, check out the following guides:
- How to Improve Your Exercise Tolerance with COPD
- How to Exercise at Home with COPD
- How to Exercise with a Portable Oxygen Concentrator
Healthy Lifestyle Habits that Can Help Prevent Falls
In general, you're much more likely to fall or have another kind of accident when you're feeling drowsy, light-headed, or fatigued. Unfortunately, those are all common problems that can result from poor health habits—particularly those that tend to be difficult for people with COPD.
For example, many people with COPD struggle to get enough sleep due to nighttime COPD symptoms, which can lead to reduced alertness, poor balance, and fatigue. Similarly, not eating enough or being malnourished can make you feel lightheaded and foggy, increasing your likelihood of having a fall.
Because of this, improving certain lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep, can lower your chances of falling. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important, not only for balance but also reducing your risk of getting injured if you fall.
To learn more about how to develop healthy lifestyle habits while managing COPD, check out the following guides:
- 13 Tips for Getting a Better Night's Sleep with COPD
- How Oxygen Therapy Can Help You Sleep
- 21 Healthy Meal Plans and Diet Tips for People with COPD
Control Your COPD Symptoms to Reduce Your Risk of Falling
COPD symptoms are another major risk for falling, which is why minimizing those symptoms as much as possible can reduce your fall risk. That means managing your COPD to the best of your ability, including taking your medications, avoiding COPD triggers, and always following your doctor's advice.
You should also beware of drugs and medicine interactions that could make you feel dizzy, drowsy, or make it harder to breathe. Always drink alcohol in moderation and check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medications (which can interact with prescription medications) to ensure that they are safe for you to use.
For more tips about how to reduce your symptoms and manage your COPD better, check out the following guides:
- 15 Practical Ways to Prevent COPD Exacerbations
- 9 Tips for Relieving Morning COPD Symptoms
- How to Manage Your COPD During the Summer
Nobody likes the idea of putting up their favorite throw rug or having to make changes that disrupt their preferred home design. However, while fall-proofing your house might seem like an inconvenience, it's one of those things you just can't afford to let slide.
After all, fall-proofing is about more than just preventing falls; it's also about making your home an easier and more comfortable place to live. It's about creating a safe environment that allows you to thrive and maintain your independence at home as you age.
In this way, fall-proofing can be a truly empowering thing, especially if you have COPD or another chronic illness that affects your mobility. It gives you the freedom to do more with less effort, which means less risk of triggering COPD symptoms like breathlessness, coughing, and fatigue.
And, of course, you get the biggest benefit of fall proofing: avoiding potentially deadly or disabling accidents so that you can live the longest, fullest, best life possible. Some things in life are just too important to risk, which is why taking action now to prevent falls before they happen is the the responsible thing to do.