Your Home: Sanctuary or Fall Hazard?

That favorite armchair, the window above the sink looking over the garden, and your mother’s homemade quilt over the bed are all integral to making your home, your sanctuary. Your home is your space; it’s your comfort zone. And it should be! However, if we think about reasons why people fall, one of the top reasons is because of our home environment.


We all need light to see, right? As we age, our vision changes and it often becomes more difficult to see objects that may be blocking our path in darkness or in a dimly lit room. This means if we forgot to put those shoes in the closet, we may not see them on our way to the bathroom during the night. Nightlights can make a huge difference in ensuring we are confident to see where we need to go. There are even nightlights that are motion sensored or that automatically turn on when it’s dark. Ensuring we have a clearly lit path to the bathroom (or anywhere else!) during the night is important. And what happens if a lightbulb goes out? Balancing on top of a chair to change it yourself is not the correct answer. Wait for a friend or family member to help, or use a sturdy footstool with a support bar around it, only if the lightbulb is low enough to reach this way. Also – it’s helpful to have a light switch or a lamp that’s easy to reach, right next to the bed. This can help prevent stumbling around in the dark, looking for the light switch all the way over by the bedroom door.


With all of our technology these days, we are maximizing our outlets like never before which means there are often cords running from here and there and everywhere! It’s helpful to make sure those cords are pushed up against the wall and taped down. We’re all guilty of leaving shoes by the door, books, newspapers, or magazines by the couch or clean clothes on the stairs ready to be taken up to the bedroom on the next trip up the stairs. The issue is that we may not see or we may forget about those shoes blocking our way to the door and trip right over them. Also – rugs are great, but we have to make sure the edges of our beautiful rugs aren’t sticking up. Good advice is to either get rid of your area rugs or to tape the edges down so they don’t become a trip hazard.


Stairs are great exercise, right?! What could be wrong with stairs? Well, actually, stairs can be quite the hazard, unless we take the necessary measures to make them safe. As mentioned before, leaving items on the stairs to take down or to carry up at a later time is often not a good idea. Those items can become trip hazards. Lighting on the stairs, both at the top and bottom, is very important to prevent stumbling around in the dark looking for the switch (and imagine if that pile of clothes is still on the stairs while you’re stumbling around! EEK!) Handrails are your friend. Making sure they’re secure is important and it’s even better if you have handrails on BOTH sides of the stairs. Make sure carpet on stairs isn’t coming up and if you have stairs with a smooth surface, stair treads are great for providing that extra traction that may help prevent a slip or fall.

Kitchen and Bathroom:

I would argue that the kitchen and the bathroom are likely the two most important rooms in our sanctuaries. And they can also be the most dangerous. Those hard tiles and sharp edges make a fall in these rooms even more hazardous. Using a non-slip bathmat may help prevent a fall in the shower and having a grab bar (one that screws into the wall; not a suction cup) to assist with getting in and out of the shower is helpful. A raised toilet seat and a grab bar by the toilet can both be helpful when getting up from and sitting down onto the toilet. In the kitchen, try to keep items you use more frequently lower in the cabinets and shelves so that they’re easier to reach. That comfy rug in front of the sink may feel great on your feet as you wash dishes, but just make sure it’s secure and is taped down or has non-slip padding underneath.

Our homes are our sanctuaries and we want to keep them that way! Simple adjustments and being mindful about our environment can help prevent a fall. Check out some of these great resources to help with home safety:

Falls Free Wisconsin Home Safety Challenge – Navigate through an actual house in WI and identify potential hazards and learn about how to make your own home safer:

AgeBetter FREE Home Safety Assessments – If you are 60 or older in Dane County and would like a free home safety assessment, email or call 608-230-4445

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Helpful checklist that contains all the information discussed above:

Injuries and Fatalities Up Among Older Drivers

In 2023, Dane County saw an increase in serious injuries and deaths of older drivers involved in traffic crashes. Seriously injured were 35 drivers aged 65 or older, and 8 more died. This is an overall increase of 23% from the previous four-year average, according to a new report from the 49-member Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), which reviews fatal traffic crashes quarterly. In the most
recent quarter, last October through December, two of the eight fatalities were
persons 65 or older.

Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County and TSC co-chair, said in Dane County the number of crashes in 2023 involving older drivers was the highest since 2019. “In 2023, drivers 65+ accounted for 25% of all fatalities, compared to 18% (1,473) of all crashes. Per mile traveled,
older drivers crash more often than middle-aged adults, though not as often as young drivers.”

She added that older drivers tend to get hurt more seriously or killed in traffic crashes. “Today’s automatic safety features make a big difference. With standard side airbags, vehicles are seeing improved side impact protection, especially for older drivers. Lane change alerts and automatic braking help all drivers, but especially older drivers.”

Wittke said these features may help older drivers compensate for the normal processes of aging that can affect ability to drive over time. “Less flexible joints or other medical conditions may make it harder to turn your head to look around, turn the steering wheel quickly or brake safely. Changes in eyesight, hearing loss, or effects of certain medications may also impact driving. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to quit driving.”

Good news is that older drivers are less likely to engage in risky driving behavior. That is supported by a 2023 AAA study showing older drivers are less likely to speed or drive distracted, such as using phones for calls or texts. They’re also more likely to wear seatbelts and avoid aggressive driving, such as red light running, quick lane changes, or tailgating.

TSC member Nick Jarmusz, AAA of Wisconsin, added that a number of available driving courses can help older drivers adopt preventive measures and understand physical changes that put them and others on the road more at risk. “AAA’s RoadWise Driver senior defensive driving course offers tips to help mature drivers compensate for physical changes and take advantage of today’s advanced, risk- reducing driving techniques. After completing they may even qualify for a discount on auto insurance.”

Jarmusz cautions drivers who have been behind the wheel for decades that changes may be so subtle they at first don’t recognize them. If drivers are experiencing any of the following, he recommends a discussion with their physician and families:

  • Frequently having trouble reading traffic control signs
  • Feeling stressed when driving
  • Having friends or family express concern with your driving
  • Difficulty looking over your shoulder when changing lanes or backing
  • Taking medications that cause drowsiness

“These don’t necessarily mean they need to stop driving,” he said. “They may want to self- impose restrictions, such as not driving after dark, in bad weather, or during heavy traffic times. In extreme cases, there may come a time when stopping driving is the safest decision for themselves and
others on the road.”

Wittke added that certain traffic situations can be especially risky for older drivers. These include becoming distracted or confused by events around them, failing to yield at intersections, misjudging the speed of oncoming vehicles, and driving on high-speed roadways. “Most important is being aware of these risks and taking action before anyone gets hurt, whether that is to take a safe driving course, restrict driving, or seek alternative ways of getting around town.”

She said Wisconsin is one of only 16 states that allows 8-year-license renewal regardless of age. Like 44 states, Wisconsin requires proof of adequate vision at license renewal for older drivers. Staff at the Department of Motor Vehicles have a responsibility to observe whether the functional ability of a driver may interfere with driving, and if so, to require additional tests or a medical report. “In general, simply getting older shouldn’t affect your safety and fitness to drive. With many older drivers enjoying better health than in the past, they can function more safely today and for a longer time,” Wittke said.

The Importance of Staying Connected and Active This Winter

There’s a chill in the air indicating that cold weather, snow, and ice are just around the corner. While we bask in the comfort of our sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes, soaking up the transitional weather between summer and winter, it’s important to remember that to stay healthy and upright, we need to maintain social connections and physical activity even as the weather turns cold.

Many older adults report feeling socially isolated and/or lonely. Winter weather certainly doesn’t help when weather conditions make it more difficult to get out and about to meet up with friends or attend an exercise class. As tempting as it is to bundle up under the covers with a good book or movie, staying active is important for both mental and physical health.

Icy sidewalks can be frightening, but there are many options for staying active during the winter. With the appropriate equipment, it’s often possible to safely go outside. Yak traks, which attach to your boots, and ice cane tips both provide more traction for walking on icy ground. Also wearing layers is important if you plan to exercise outside so you can better regulate your body temperature. If you’re not keen on braving the elements, there are now lots of programs available virtually that help improve balance. Local programs include Tai Chi and Ballroom Basics for Balance offer virtual programming, and you can also find some great videos online. Silver Sneakers has a library of videos, and most Medicare plans allow you to easily access them. Your living room, kitchen and bathroom can become your own personal gym if you incorporate simple exercises like toe raises while brushing your teeth or side-stepping down the length of your kitchen counter. The main thing is to KEEP MOVING! Less movement means loss of muscle mass for those important muscles that help you stand from a seated position, sit from a standing position, and safely step up or down from a curb.

In addition to the falls prevention aspect of moving and staying engaged in some sort of programming, there’s also a very important social factor. Whether we’re Facetiming loved ones who may not live nearby or chatting with a neighbor on the telephone, maintaining social connection is vital to our health. According to the Office of the Surgeon General, lacking social connection is as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. And according to the report released this year, “chronic loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of developing dementia by approximately 50% in older adults. Additionally, lacking social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60%” The effects of Covid-19 have shed an even brighter light on how important social connection is through all stages of life. Balance-enhancing classes, both in-person and virtual, can help provide that social connection for many people.

This winter, try making a goal to maintain social connections and to keep active! This can be done many different ways however YOU feel the most comfortable doing it. Don’t hesitate to visit the Safe Communities website ( or call Ashley Hillman at 608-235-1957 to find out what programs (both in-person and virtual) are available near you. We all want the autonomy to be independent and to live our lives the way we want – staying connected and staying upright will help us to achieve those goals.

September 27 “Only Leaves Should Fall” Mini Events

If you are concerned about falling or have fallen in the past, please join us on Tuesday, September 27 at the Triangle Community Ministry or Mt. Zion Baptist Church to learn about strategies to prevent a fall. These events are FREE and lunch is included. After lunch, participants will progress through a series of screenings, such as vision, blood pressure, gait, and medication to help determine one’s fall risk. Then participants will leave with information about how to prevent a fall to continue living a healthy, independent life.

We know that falls are the number one cause of injury death among our older adult population in Wisconsin. The rate of fall deaths in WI is more than twice the national average. The good news is that we can help change these sobering statistics! Falls as we age are not inevitable and when equipped with the right tools and strategies, we can prevent falls from happening in the first place.

We would like to thank all of our partners involved in these two events: The Triangle Community Ministry and Mt. Zion Baptist Church for hosting; UW-Madison Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, and Nursing programs, Madison College Occupational Therapy Assistant program, and Edgewood College Nursing program for conducting screenings and working with participants at both locations; UW Health and St. Mary’s for lunch; and the African American Health Network, the Dane County Falls Prevention Task Force, and the Community Academic Aging Research Network (CAARN) for helping to make these events possible.

For more information about either event, please call Ashley Hillman at 608-235-1957. While the events at both locations are free, we do ask that you register ahead of time by calling the following numbers:

Triangle Community Ministry: Call Nurse Carri at 608-257-8517

Mt. Zion Baptist Church: Call 608-255-5270

Unique Steppin’ – Improve your dance moves AND your balance!

Join us on Saturdays from 1-3pm starting August 20 as Safe Communities and Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) collaborate to offer Unique Steppin’ to improve balance AND dance moves. While this program is intended to improve your balance, there’s an added bonus of improving your dance moves all while having fun. Roy Jones is the Unique Steppin’ instructor and has experience with this Chicago style of dance and is gifted at teaching others about something he, himself, is so passionate about doing.

According to research, there is evidence that dance improves balance as we age. Using both the brain and the body at the same time challenges one in a way that improves our “functional capacity”.[1] Improving balance is so important in preventing a fall. As we age, we often lose strength in certain areas of our bodies that are integral to daily movement, such as sitting in a chair, standing from a chair, and stepping over a curb. When we can more safely navigate our environment, we can enjoy our environment more fully, which gives us more independence.

In addition to improving balance, this class is an opportunity to engage with others. We all know that Covid has prevented social interaction and has led to isolation in many cases. Social isolation can lead to various types of negative health outcomes. It’s important that we connect with one another. Unique Steppin’ provides people with that opportunity.

Whether you’ve never heard of Steppin’ or you’ve participated in Steppin’ competitions, all are welcome at the Unique Steppin’ class at MSCR East on Cottage Grove Rd. The only things you need are comfortable clothing and shoes, water, and a positive attitude! Roy will be there to greet you and to help you on your balance AND dance journey!

[1] Rodríguez B, Paris-Garcia F. Influence of Dance Programmes on Gait Parameters and Physical Parameters of the Lower Body in Older People: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Jan 29;19(3):1547. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19031547. PMID: 35162569; PMCID: PMC8835694.


How do you know which exercises or activities improve balance?

By Ashley Hillman, Safe Communities’ Falls Prevention Program Manager

Did you know that there are certain types of exercise that are better for enhancing balance? Walking is great aerobic exercise for your overall health, but it’s actually not an activity that has been proven to help improve balance. However, dancing, pickleball, yoga, ping pong, and Tai Chi are examples of activities that DO improve balance, thus decreasing your risk of a fall. There are certain types of exercises that you can incorporate into your daily routine that help improve balance. Let’s explore!

Static Balance means practicing while your feet or your seat are NOT moving. An example of this may be standing on one leg (maybe try it while you brush your teeth!). While practicing, it’s always a good idea to have a surface available for you to hold onto.

Dynamic Balance means practicing while your feet or your seat ARE moving. It might be time to pull out your dancing shoes because we’ve learned that dancing improves balance. In Dane County, we have Ballroom Basics for Balance™, a super fun dance class where you might learn the East Coast Swing, Cha Cha, or Waltz all while having fun and improving balance. Another example of practicing dynamic balance is stepping over something that might be in your path.

Dual-Task Training means doing something with your body then doing something else with your body OR your brain. This can be a tricky exercise, so while you want to challenge yourself, you don’t want it to be too difficult. Some examples might include walking sideways while counting backward or following a dance routine.

Strength building in the context of improving balance focuses on your legs and core (trunk) area. The goal is to be able to move your body while minimally using your arms and hands. We use our leg and core muscles for many daily activities, such as getting up from a chair, sitting into a chair, or stepping onto a sidewalk.

Now that we know which types of specific activities improve balance, it’s helpful to know how often or long one should engage in such activities. The recommendation is 3 hours per week, but these 3 hours can be broken into “snack size” activities. You don’t need to do them all at once. Incorporate activities into your daily routine. While you’re brushing your teeth, try standing on one leg. While cooking in the kitchen and moving to get something further down the counter, walk sideways and count backwards, all the while ensuring there is a counter or sturdy surface in reach should you need it. The key is to start small and gradually increase the challenge.

There are numerous community classes that have been identified as having the key components to improve balance. These include Tai Chi, dance, yoga, and numerous others that can be found on the Safe Communities website. If you see a “b” next to a class, you’ll know that it has been given the “Balance Stamp of Approval”. And if you’re currently taking a class and would like it to be evaluated to see if it contains the key types of activities to improve balance, contact Ashley Hillman at 608-235-1957 or We hope to see you in one of Dane County’s many balance enhancing classes soon!

Local Home Safety Resources

Elderly man and woman participating in yoga

Home Safety Resources:

Safety Checklist from the CDC (PDF)

SSM Health Medical Equipment
4639 Hammersley Road
Madison, WI 53711
(800) 924-2273

All our retail stores have an extensive supply of home medical equipment and supplies to assist patients and caregivers with treatments and care as well as increase mobility, safety, independence and comfort.

SSM Health Voicecare (Personal Emergency Response System)
4639 Hammersley Road
Madison, WI 53711
(855) 332-6882

Subscribers wear a pendant, and in the event of a fall or other emergency, pressing the activator button will alert monitoring personnel who will contact the subscriber to ensure they are safe, or will contact other designated emergency responders as needed. VoiceCare gives subscribers and their loved ones peace of mind knowing help is available with the push of a button.

Supporting Active Independent Lives (SAIL)
Oakwood Village University Woods Campus
6209 Mineral Point Road #210
Madison, WI 53705

Supporting Active Independent Lives (SAIL) is a vibrant non-profit membership organization of people 55+ who reside in the Dane county area. SAIL members wish to remain active, independent, in their own homes, and socially connected, and have found that navigating the many changes brought on by age is much easier with the resources offered by SAIL. Membership includes referrals to pre-screened service providers, discounted emergency pendants, daily automated check-in service, house checks, shredding services, wellness services, social events and clubs, member-helping-member volunteer opportunities, discounts to Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) programs, Home Health United medical equipment, quarterly mattress flipping and other member perks!

William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital
(available to veterans who qualify-contact your VA physician)

Adaptive Remodeling Solutions
6200 Sylvan Ln
Monona, WI 53716

Adaptive Remodeling Solutions, LLC work to provide older adults and individuals with special needs with the home remodeling solutions that they need to remain independent. This includes remodeling kitchens, bathrooms, and other home modifications that make a home more accessible.

Accessibility Plus
125 Garnet Ln.
Madison, WI 53714
(608) 335-6779

Accessibility Plus is focused exclusively on making the home a safer place for individuals who are physically challenged due to a disability or aging. Our in-home safety assessments and home safety modification services are provided by an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA).

Project Home
3841 Kipp St.
Madison, WI 53718

Makes home repairs, accessibility modifications and energy improvements to make homes healthier, safer and to ease the financial burden of high energy bills for people who are struggling financially.

UW Health Care Direct
Including Home Health & Home Medical Equipment and Supplies
1345 Deming Way
Middleton, WI 53562
(608) 203-2273


Home Medical Equipment & Supplies services include:

  • Oxygen (concentrators, liquid and portables)
  • Sleep disorder evaluations and equipment
  • Home ventilators
  • Infant apnea monitors
  • Home beds and patient lifts
  • Mobility equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, canes,
    crutches, etc.)
  • Home medical supplies
  • Caregiver education programs
  • Clinical consultation and training
  • Clinical respiratory services
  • 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service

Beauty and the Beast: Winter in WI – Tips for Preventing a Fall this Winter

Person in winter boots walking on snowy street

Lately as we look out of our windows, we see the beauty of winter: glistening trees covered in ice and a white blanket of snow covering what was once green. For Wisconsinites, this particular season (while often beautiful) can pose many fall hazards to older adults. Falls are the #1 cause of injury death among adults 65+ in Wisconsin and are one of the top reasons for calls to EMS. 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Below are some tips to stay upright this winter.

Braving the cold, wintry weather to run errands, visit family, or just to get out of the house without a cell phone on your body can be detrimental and even deadly if you happen to fall outside. Always have a cell phone on your body that is easy to reach in the event you fall or are stranded and need to call for help. Waiting for someone to find you in brutal winter weather can result in not only an injury due to do a fall, but also hypothermia or frostbite.

Winters in Wisconsin are long, and with shorter days comes decreased sun exposure which could impact one’s Vitamin D levels. Talk with your doctor about Vitamin D and whether or not a supplement could be beneficial to help maintain strong bones and aid in other potential positive health outcomes.

The combination of shorter days and staying indoors due to harsh weather could lead to depression in older adults. These two factors, on top of Covid-19, have made social interaction even more difficult for our older population. We know that social interaction is key to good health – we need each other! Finding ways to engage with friends, family, and neighbors despite the weather is important, though it’s important to do so safely. Many health and fitness programs for older adults are now available over the phone or online. This may include Tai Chi, Stepping On, Ballroom Basics for Balance, yoga, and many others! Connect with your local senior center or the Aging and Disability Resource Center (608-240-7400) to find out what might be available. Set up a standing telephone or video coffee date with a friend or loved one to help stay connected.

“Drink Wisconsinbly” may be a funny tag line for a t-shirt or coffee mug, but it’s also a very real problem in our state and can lead to health issues or injuries, such as a fall. As our bodies age, we metabolize alcohol more slowly. And as older adults often take supplements and prescription medications, alcohol often does not interact favorably. Please talk with your doctor about safe alcohol consumption, and be mindful of alcohol intake, especially on those long winter nights that might be exacerbated by feelings of depression.

And be mindful of bringing potential winter hazards into your home! Health care providers recommend taking shoes off when entering your house because snow and ice might be tracked inside the house, thaw, thus creating very slippery patches of water on the floor. This can be another fall hazard.

As you’re gazing at the lovely winter scene outside, take a moment to go through a mental checklist of ways to stay safe: use yak trax or other grip devices on shoes, use a winterized cane tip, ensure sideways and driveways are clear of ice and snow, never leave home without your cell phone, keep kitty litter in your car to provide better traction on ice when getting out of the car in parking lots, institute a check-in system with a loved one or neighbor, and keep your body moving so muscles stay strong! And remember, winter will once again segue into spring.

Contact Ashley Hillman at Safe Communities for information about falls prevention activities in Dane County (608-235-1957).

Fall Prevention Classes: High Risk

Elder black man stretching in park

Referral to Physical Therapy

You may want to consider a physical therapist, preferably one with special training on older adult falls. Many physical therapists are trained to find out why you/your patient is falling, and help them with recovery solutions, such as strength and balance exercises to help reduce the chance of falling again.


One physical therapy program that has been shown to reduce falls among older adults is the Otago Falls Prevention Program (developed in New Zealand).

Fall Prevention Classes: Medium Risk

Elderly Women sitting and doing physical therapy activities with rubber rings

Stepping On

Stepping On is an evidence-based workshop meeting once per week for seven weeks, two hours per week, with a reunion class three months later. The class is led by trained leaders who work with you and your classmates to help improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling by reviewing medications, exploring the role of vision and falls, teaching strength and balance exercises, and offering help to improve your safety at home. Members of the class support each other’s efforts to take action to prevent falls. Older adults who may have balance problems or fear of falling are the best fit for this class. According to studies, people who complete Stepping On classes see a 31% reduction in falls. A Stepping On workshop costs $35 for the seven week session and includes the reunion class.

An additional 15-30 minutes will be added to the first class of the workshop series to complete paperwork (surveys and data collection).

For research on Stepping on from the CDC, click here.

Available Workshops: 

Waunakee Senior Center

333 S. Madison St., Waunakee 

Thursdays, February 29 – April 18 (skipping 3/28/24) from 9:30am – 11:30am

To register, contact Diane at the Waunakee Senior Center at 608-849-8548

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Oak Park Place

719 Jupiter Dr., Madison

Tuesdays, March 5 – April 16 from 11:00am – 1:00pm

To register, contact Claire Brakke at 

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Mt. Horeb Senior Center

107 N. Grove St., Mt. Horeb 

Mondays, April 1 – May 13 from 12:30pm – 2:30pm

To register, contact the Mt. Horeb Senior Center at 608-437-6902

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Cornerstone Community Center

505 N. Main St., DeForest 

Wednesdays, April 3 – May 15 from 2:00pm – 4:00pm

To register, contact the Cornerstone Community Center at 608-846-9469

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Verona Senior Center

108 Paoli St., Verona 

Tuesdays, April 9 – May 21 from 9:00am – 11:00am

To register, contact the Verona Senior Center at 608-845-7471

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Oregon Senior Center

219 Park St., Oregon

Thursdays, May 9 – June 27 (skipping 5/30/24) from 1:00pm – 3:00pm

To register, contact the Oregon Senior Center at 608-835-5801

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Stoughton Senior Center

248 W. Main St., Stoughton 

Wednesdays, July 10 – August 21 from 10:00am – 12:00pm

To register, contact the Stoughton Senior Center at 608-873-8585

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Tai Chi Fundamentals™

Available Classes:

Madison Senior Center –

Participants encouraged to take Goodman Community Center’s Virtual Tai Chi Class (call 608-241-1574 for information)

Goodman Community Center: Tai Chi Fundamental Form –

Please call Goodman Community Center for information about virtual Tai Chi (608) 241-1574

Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR): Tai Chi-Multiple Styles

Contact MSCR for program guide and information about Goodman Rotary 50+ Classes: 608-204-3023