The #1 Hidden Health Hazard in Your Home

What causes more deaths in the home than fires or gas leaks? The answer might surprise you.

By Winnie Yu

Bernie Schallehn was in the shower and about to rinse soap out of his eyes when he slipped and fell backwards. He landed outside the tub, but not before hitting his head on the bathroom counter. The 61-year-old grandfather wound up with two bumps on his head, but it could have been much worse.

"I think there was soap and shampoo residue in the tub that caused me to slip," says Schallehn, 64, a writer and grandfather in Voorheesville, New York. "I was also rushing. If I had it to do over again, I'd go slower and put my focus on maintaining good footing."

Although he and his wife talked about installing a bar in the shower, they never did. "However, now I usually wipe the floor of the tub before I shower to make sure it's not slick with shampoo, soap or other products," Schallehn says.

When it comes to making our homes safe, we typically think of replacing batteries in fire alarms, installing carbon monoxide detectors, and stowing away hazardous chemicals. But in reality, the biggest health hazard in our homes may be our feet – when they trip or slip. 

A Potentially Lethal Life-Changer
Every year, more than 2.8 million older adults turn up in hospital emergency rooms for fall-related injuries, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Schallehn was lucky he only got some bumps—falls also result in 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 31,000 deaths every year.

"Falls are a huge issue, and the No. 1 life changer I see," says Sharon Brangman, MD, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.

A hip fracture can result in premature death, while head trauma can lead to blood clots in the brain. That’s what happened to Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State, and became dehydrated, fainted, fell, and hit her head.

While adults of all ages are vulnerable to falling, the impact is more severe on those who are older. "Sometimes the fall isn’t the worst of it," Brangman says. "It’s being on the floor for a period of time, and they can’t get to a phone. They might experience severe dehydration or a significant muscle problem from lying on floor for a long time."

How to Stay Safe at Home
Because most falls occur in the home, it’s important to keep your environment safe. It’s also important to practice being aware of your surroundings and your potential for a fall, Brangman says. Here, get 12 tips that'll help you stay steady on your feet >>


jackie9toes: Anything attached with suction cups is potentially more dangerous than nothing at all. You would be smart to hire someone to securely attach a grab bar (or even several throughout the bathroom). Your life can be radically changed in a moment- a professionally installed grab bar can save you from a broken bone, a head injury and could even save your life. If there is a Rebuilding Together organization in your community they have a Safe at Home program that can make safety modifications, usually for free if you qualify.

access01 on 2013-01-10 16:27:04

A railing securely attached on the wall going up the stairs would be a good safety idea as well.

access01 on 2013-01-10 16:20:09

I found a very handy device at harbor freight .Its a u shaped safty handle witha large suction cup on each end that you can put on any smooth wall , such as a shower stall and leaves no marks
I found this to be verry helpfull asi am 76 and not to good on my feet and i have a tub/shower combination.
As i recall it was about $9.95 and well worth it

jackie9toes on 2013-01-10 07:19:11

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