Making Your Deck Safe for Aging in Place

Many of us worry about slipping and falling, especially as we get older, or when it snows, or there’s ice outside. But falls happen indoors too. And, they happen in places we think are safe – like our decks.

Forty percent of fatal injuries among people ages 65 and older are the result of slip and fall accidents, making falling the fifth leading cause of death among those 55 and older.

A lot of factors that increase slips and falls, in general, come into play on a deck. Increased age, poor posture control, and slow reaction time can make walking across a living room high risk. Seniors tend to be less frequently active, have poor vision, impaired balance and have side effects like dizziness from their medication. They also tend to have previous injuries or falls that make them more susceptible to another fall.

Environmental hazards that seem innocuous for young adults can become extremely dangerous for older people. Poor lighting, slippery surfaces, or uneven surfaces like those sometimes found on older decks can increase the risk of a slip and fall injury. Sometimes a combination of several minor factors can lead to major slip and fall.

If you or someone in your family spends time on an outside deck or porch, you might want to consider making the deck “senior friendly.” While many seniors don’t want their homes, bathrooms, or decks looking like a retirement home, it’s possible to incorporate safety features that would never be seen as a safety device. It’s all in the design. This post is an overview of the problems inherent in many deck designs, along with some solutions to make walking and relaxing on a deck safe for everyone – including seniors. But we have a free ebook with more details!

Poor Lighting

Whether it’s indoors, in a room, or along a walkway or on a deck, poor lighting can easily contribute to a slip and fall. Your deck may have lighting, but is it adequate for the people who will be using it. A nighttime mood ambiance may be welcome, but not when the lights are so dim that seniors have difficulty decerning things like stairs, inclines, or other items on a deck that become hazards in the dark.  Inadequate lighting can cause seniors to trip, slip or fall by concealing conditions that normally wouldn’t be hazardous.

While those plants along the railing are easily seen and avoided during the day, it’s possible to trip over them at night if they aren’t lighted. Many seniors have poor depth perception in the dark. They’re more likely fail to see a step up or down or a gap in the railing near a stairway due to the darkness. Transitioning from a well-lit interior onto a dimly lit deck can also cause problems in seniors whose eyes don’t adjust to the change in light as easily as they did before.

Cataracts and other eye conditions can make getting around a deck doubly hard. Loose boards, protruding nails, mold or other debris on a deck can make for a slippery or uneven surface that leads to falls.

Solutions

As we age most of us lose strength and agility. Our muscle mass decreases, making mounting or descending a set of stairs tremendously difficult. Decreased mobility means we’re not only more likely to fall but that our bodies aren’t as able to cope with the trauma of a fall as well as when we were in our twenties. A minor fall can result in a severe injury or even death. For seniors, just one bad fall can cause lacerations, broken bones, a hip fracture, or head trauma as well as scrapes, cuts, deep bruising and collapsed lungs.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one in three adults over the age of 65 falls each year. Over 22 thousand seniors died from unintentional injuries caused by falls in 2011. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries amongst seniors.

ADA-Compliant Railings

Many older people suffer from a variety of conditions that make a solid handrail critical to their safety. Things like arthritis, decreased mobility, heart disease, osteoporosis, and other medical issues can help prevent or reduce the seriousness of falls. So if you’re a senior, or building a new railing on a deck where you’ll have elderly visitors, keep railing safety for the elderly in mind. Consider using ADA compliant handrails. They don’t look that different from other handrails but they do have several features that make them a better choice.

Footing and Stairs

While some deck owners don’t like the idea of slip-resistant strips on their stairways, most welcome the idea. Strips on steps make steps less slippery, and when applied with colored strips, they’re easier to see and tell guests there is a step to navigate. If the idea of a colored strip doesn’t appeal to you, there are also clear strips available with the same level of protection.

To learn more about how to make your deck safer for seniors in your family, download our free ebook on Aging in Place, Deck Safety for Seniors here: ___