Tips to prevent falls in a house full of holiday decorations

By Dr. Chris Mulvey, PT

prevent falls in a houseThe Internet is full of videos, memes and movie clips showing holiday decorating mishaps – people falling off ladders, tripping on gifts and tumbling into Christmas trees.

Although it’s easy to get into the Christmas spirit while decorating, it’s also easy to get injured.

During the holiday season each year, emergency departments nationwide treat an average of 13,000 to 15,000 patients for decorating-related injuries, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Falls are the most common holiday mishaps requiring a hospital visit. People fall from ladders stringing lights onto a home’s roofline, stretching to perfectly place ornaments onto the tree and retrieving heavy boxes of decorations from storage.

Seniors already face a high risk for falling – one in three seniors suffers a serious fall each year, according to federal data – and holiday decorations pose additional safety concerns as homes transform into winter wonderlands at year’s end.

To minimize fall risks for yourself, and seniors, this holiday season, consider these eight decorating tips:

• Exterior lights: Stringing lights onto the roofline or around palm trees is dangerous. Utilize inflatables, net lights on shrubs and laser projectors to light up a home’s exterior.

• Ladders: Don’t use them. Ladders are meant for reaching vertical, but hanging ornaments or lights on a tree or gutters requires horizontal reach. That’s how you get hurt. Consider asking an older child or tall friend to place a star or angel atop the tree; you’ll stay safe and they’ll enjoy helping.

• Extension cords and light strands: The Christmas tree, music boxes and other holiday decorations requiring electricity should be placed near outlets. Cords create trip hazards and are especially dangerous for curious children and pets.

• Gifts: It’s a blessing to have a bounty of gifts beneath the Christmas tree, but presents and gift bags can pose trip hazards. All gifts should fit under the tree and out of walking paths.

• Lighting: Sipping a cup of hot cocoa in a living room lit only by candles and colorful Christmas lights is nostalgic, but many falls happen in poorly lit environments. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season with the lights on.

• Storage boxes: Holiday decorations often are stored on high shelves in the garage or closet. Ask for assistance to move heavy boxes. Also, while decorations are on display, storage bins and boxes should be returned to their original spot in the garage or closet.

• Holiday parties: Consider your guests. Evening gatherings in the backyard aren’t ideal because of low lighting and uneven surfaces.

• Package deliveries: Many families are forgoing holiday travel this year and mailing gifts to loved ones. Consider the weight of gifts for recipients and whether they’ll be able to safely handle the package.

Decorating for the holidays is a family tradition, and many seniors continue the tradition long after their children grow up and move out. Perhaps it’s time to start a new tradition by offering to help parents, grandparents and older neighbors put up their holiday displays. It will help keep them safe and they’ll certainly appreciate the extra set of hands and spirited conversation.

Why is a physical therapist writing about holiday decorating safety tips? FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers has a robust fall-risk assessment program that includes an analysis of the home environment. Among the most common trip hazards for seniors are clutter along hallways and stairs, poor lighting, cracks in sidewalks, exposed tree roots and improper footwear. Certain medications also can cause dizziness or sleepiness that can lead to stability problems, as well as poor vision and hearing.

It’s important to think about falling before you’re on the way down.

About the Author
Dr. Chris Mulvey, PT, is president for company clinics at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, which has 405 locations in 45 states. For more information, please visit



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