Bathroom slip and fall accidents on the rise

Bath mats and rugs can help prevent accidents in a bathroom. Photo by Racheal Mabala

What you need to know:

  • Experts say older people are at risk of slip and fall accidents because of chronic diseases and lack of physical fitness.

Mr Elvis Basudde Kyeyune, a resident of Kampala, nearly lost his life after sustaining a severe head injury due to a fall in the bathroom.

“They did a scan and found that it [the injury] didn’t go through the medulla oblongata [a special part of the brain that controls heart and lungs function], otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you today,”  he told Sunday Monitor.

Mr Kyeyune is a statistic in the column of bathroom slip and fall accidents. While some—like his— have resulted in injuries, others have led to death.

Deaths of Ugandans such as that of Brig Gen Victor Twesigye (a UPDF liaison officer at the East African Community Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania) and singer Emmanuel Mayanja, popularly known as AK47, among others, have been linked to bathroom slip and fall accidents as per police reports.

Dr Stephen Ayella-Ataro, a sports doctor and fitness trainer, who heads Uganda Medical Association’s Sports and Wellness Programme, told this newspaper that bathroom slip and fall accidents are on the rise.

Cases on the rise

He said between 15 percent to 25 percent of those who fall may require hospital admission due to the severity of the accident, of which some may die.

“Bathroom accidents or falls are very common in our homestead. If you look at every home, at least there’s an incident reported. Both for those who use the modern shower rooms and those who use the outside bathroom,” Dr Ataro said.

He added: “Somebody slides and falls or somebody staggers and falls. Now the commonest is not even due to a medical condition, but a slippery bathroom. Especially, the bathtubs and where there are showers.”

According to the expert, using soap or shower gel forms a lot of lather. This subsequently increases the risk of falling because if one finishes bathing, the lather leaves a slippery floor.

“The fall in the bathroom, one common problem that occurs is that if you hit your head and when you hit the skull, chances are that you can fracture the base of the skull and it causes bleeding into the brain, which can kill you or you end up with more complications,” Dr Ataro said.

But the injuries can be diverse.  Mr Gad Kusasira, another resident of Kampala, said his father slipped and fell in the bathroom and broke his pelvic bone.

Other risk factors

Dr Norbert Orwotho, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Mulago Hospital, told Sunday Monitor that materials used to construct the bathroom, age, alcohol, and drug use are the other risk factors for a fall in the bathroom.

“The elderly are the most at risk of falling in the bathroom. When you are building a bathroom, the tiles are not supposed to be the smooth type because they increase the risk of falling,” he said.

The use of alcohol and drugs affects the functioning of the brain and can cause an imbalance that increases one’s risk of falling in the bathroom.

Dr Ataro, however, said one should wipe off the water from their body before stepping out of the bathroom. They should then use bathroom mats to minimise the risk of falling.

“The older people are more at risk because of lack of physical fitness and chronic diseases like diabetes and heart diseases, which cause numbness to the legs and affect the blood flow,” Dr Ataro explained, adding: “The epileptics are also at risk because they get convulsions and they can fall. People living with disability and or mental impairment are more at risk of a fall in the bathroom. Also, those with Cerebellar disturbances (imbalance posture) can fall easily.”

Women most prone

According to scientists, falling is more common among women and this is linked to obesity or lack of physical fitness. The fall in the bathroom could be due to an underlying disease such as vertigo that—experts say—causes imbalance.

Ms Susan Akori, a senior physiotherapist at Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital, said while showering, one should not start by pouring water on the head. 

She said this can constrict essential blood vessels in the brain, causing an increase in blood pressure which can hamper brain function and can lead to strokes and falls in the bathroom.

“If you are bathing, you should start with your limbs and continue upward to the head,” she said, adding: “Bathing immediately after eating is also not good because the blood is majorly in the stomach and the supply to the brain is reduced.”

Bathing can worsen the limited blood supply to the brain. Ms Akori said those who suffer injuries can get care from the hospital, including physiotherapy.

Dr Ataro said in the morning, one should do some exercises for at least five minutes before bathing to reduce the risk of falling in the bathroom because the blood flow to the brain is not at its best. 

“Avoid showering when you’re too hungry or when you’re too full because when you’re too hungry, the blood sugar may be low and you can black out,” he warned.

Preventive measures

As regard prevention, Dr Stephen Ayella-Ataro, a sports doctor and fitness trainer, advised: “You can have handles on the wall. Like you see the way some bathtubs have handles. When you get up, you hold it so that you don’t slide. Have adequate lighting in the bathroom. It is advisable to open the bathroom window and your shower. It helps with the circulation of air.”

He said for medical conditions that predispose people to risk of falling, one should have regular check-ups for chronic illnesses.

“You can get that treated and please take your medication regularly so that you avoid being at risk. And then physical exercises are recommended. At least 30 minutes of exercise a day for about three to five times a week helps us avoid these disease conditions like hypertension and diabetes,” he said, adding: “And then watching diet because if you eat lots of fatty foods, [these are] things that will cause a blockage in the heart—cholesterol-rich foods, that’s the problem.”

The expert also says alcohol consumption should be regulated.

“If you are drunk, you stagger naturally. When you go to take a bath, you can fall. The blood flow is massive in drunk people. You can get bleeding and you lose a lot of blood and you die. You go for a check-up with the doctor, and you do medication,” he said.

Dr Ataro said: “People should do annual check-ups. Yes, twice a year or at minimum yearly. You check your blood sugar, the organ functions, and whether you’re at risk of high cholesterol. You know, all those problems.”