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Evaluating the Safety of Your Staircase

Updated on March 23, 2009

Dangers of a Fall

Falling is a fact of life, with almost all of us having experienced at least one and probably multiple falls during our lifetime. Sometimes the only thing hurt is our pride, but a fall can also prove very dangerous. While everyone experiences falls, seniors are at an increased risk of a fall.

Among seniors, approximately a third will experience a fall at some point and frequently these falls will result in a serious injury. The dangers of a fall are not only physical though, because sometimes a senior will lose some of their confidence after a fall.

This loss of confidence can mean withdrawing from social engagements or even moving in to an assisted care facility. In fact a senior who has experienced a fall is about three times more likely to move into an assisted care facility.

Since the potential ramifications of a fall is so serious, it is very important to take measures to help prevent them and reduce the risk of injuries. There are many areas where a fall can happen, but the stairs often poses that biggest threat to a senior. Not only is a senior more likely to fall on the stairs, but the chance of a fatal accident is also much higher.

A Staircase like this prevents several dangers to a senior
A Staircase like this prevents several dangers to a senior

Evaluate Your Stairs

To help prevent falls, one of the first things you should do is evaluate the safety of the staircase. First, consider the height of each step and the steps depth.

If the steps are more than 7 inches high this can lead to accidents, because the senior must raise their foot much higher, so there is more of a chance that the senior might catch the edge of the step with their foot.

The depth of the step is also very important. Generally if there is not enough room to fit an adult sized foot on the step, it is not deep enough. This is around 11 inches.

Stairs that use a more modern open back design can also be dangerous, because it is easy for light from behind the stairs to distract the senior as the climb the steps. The total length of the stairs can also cause fatigue if there are more than ten steps in a row without a landing.

A loose handrail or the lack of a handrail can also lead to accidents. It is important that the handrail can be grabbed easily and should be less than 6.5 inches around. If the opportunity presents itself, having two handrails is better than only having one.

Slippery steps are also a common cause of accidents. Having a non-skid surface on the steps is important. Carpet is often used to create a runner. You can also buy individual pieces that fit onto the individual steps. You don't want anything too thick, but instead very tightly woven carpet is a good choice. It is also important that it is tightly secured to the floor.

If you find that your staircase is too steep or otherwise potentially hazardous, it might be necessary to invest in a lifting device. Stair lifts are one device used often in the home to improve the stairs safety.

How Stairs Around the Country Stack Up

A recent study assessed the safety of over 700 home staircases and 500 public staircases, both indoors and out, and found that in homes, improper depth and inconsistent height were usually the biggest problem.

Slipperiness was also a big concern, especially among outdoor public stairs. This was true of residential staircases, but among public staircases the lack of a non-skid surface was a much bigger issue.

Evaluating the safety of your stairs is very important and knowing how to identify unsafe stairs in public can also help to prevent falls. It is usually much easier to make your stairs safe then public stairs, so being able to identify and avoid a dangerous staircase is very important. Take care to always wear a non-skid shoe and also avoid staircases if they are wet or lack a proper handrail.


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