The center for disease control reports that among people 65 years and older, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. Each year in the United States, nearly one third of older adults experience a fall. The majority of falls occur at home and most fractures reported by older adults are the result of a fall. Falls can lead to a tragic loss of an older person's independence and mobility. Given the vastly growing population of the 65+ age group, the direct costs (nationally) for nonfatal injuries related to falls is expected to reach as much as $44 billion by 2020.

Each year, more than 734,000 people over 65 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with stairs, bathtubs, furniture, carpeting and other products seniors live with and use every day. Thousands of these injuries are related to falls: 3,000 seniors each year fall while standing on chairs; 6,800 seniors trip on rugs or carpet runners. Many of these accidents could be prevented. It is estimated that simple modifications to the interior of the house can cut a mature adults risk of falling in half. Changes in furniture arrangement, housekeeping and lighting will definitely help reduce the risk of falling at home. Below is a list of important questions and answers to help you determine if your aging loved ones home, or your own home, is safe for a mature adult.

Q: Where in the home is considered the most dangerous place that seniors need to be most careful?

The bathroom is one of the most hazardous places in the home for accidents; the majority of broken hips are the result of slipping in the bathtub. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that there are more than 300,000 bathroom accidents each year and that 2.5 million adults over the age of 65 need special assistance in bathing.

Q: What are some of the best things to do to prevent these bathroom accidents?

  • Install grab bars on the bathroom walls near the toilet and along the bathtub or shower.
  • Place a slip-resistant rug adjacent to the bathtub for safe exit and entry.
  • Mount a liquid soap dispenser on the bathtub/shower wall.
  • Place nonskid adhesive textured strips on the bathtub/shower floor.
  • A combination safety seat/transfer bench can be used in the bathroom to provide additional stability and comfort for transition in and out of the bathtub.
  • Stabilize yourself on the toilet by using either a raised seat or a special toilet seat with armrests.
  • Replace glass shower enclosures with non-shattering material.
  • Place night lights between the bathroom and bedroom to help for safe maneuvering at night.

Q: What about stairs and steps, what should be done?

  • Make sure light switches are at both the top and bottom of the stairs.
  • Provide enough light to see each step and the top and bottom landings.
  • Keep flashlights nearby in case of a power outage.
  • Install handrails on both sides of the stairway and be sure to use them.
  • Do not leave objects on the stairs.
  • Consider installing motion detector lights, which turn on automatically and light your stairway.
  • Put nonslip treads on each bare-wood step.
  • Do not use patterned, dark, or deep-pile carpeting. Solid colors show the edges of steps more clearly.
  • Do not place loose area rugs at the bottom or top of stairs.
  • Repair loose stairway carpeting or boards immediately.

Q: What are some home safety tips for living areas?

  • Arrange furniture to create clear pathways between rooms.
  • Remove low coffee tables, magazine racks, footrests, and plants from pathways in rooms.
  • Install easy-access light switches at entrances to rooms so you won't have to walk into a darkened room in order to turn on the light. Glow-in-the-dark switches may be helpful.
  • Secure loose area rugs with double-faced tape or slip-resistant backing. Recheck these rugs periodically.
  • Keep electric, appliance, and telephone cords out of your pathways, but don't put cords under a rug.
  • Eliminate wobbly chairs, ladders, and tables.
  • Do not sit in a chair or on a sofa that is so low it is difficult to stand up.
  • Place carpeting over concrete, ceramic, and marble floors to lessen the severity of injury if you fall.
  • Repair loose wooden floorboards immediately.

Q: How about the Kitchen?

  • Remove throw rugs.
  • Immediately clean up any liquid, grease, or food spilled on the floor.
  • Store food, dishes, and cooking equipment at easy-to-reach waist-high level.
  • Don't stand on chairs or boxes to reach upper cabinets. Use only a step stool with an attached handrail so you are supported.
  • Repair loose flooring.
  • Use nonskid floor wax.

Q: And Bedrooms?

  • Clear clutter from the floor.
  • Place a lamp and flashlight near your bed.
  • Again, install night-lights along the route between the bedroom and the bathroom.
  • Sleep on a bed that is easy to get into and out of.
  • Keep a telephone near your bed.

Q: Do you have any additional home safety tips?

Yes, smoke detectors should be installed in the home and checked periodically to be sure that they work. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) home fires are more deadly than all others combined and for those individuals 65 or older, the fire death risk is twice as high as that of the average population.

Sources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
800-311-3435

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
847-823-7186

National Fire Protection Association
617-770-3000

ALEXIS ABRAMSON, Ph.D. is cited as America’s leading, impassioned champion for the dignity and independence of those over 50. Doctor Alexis is the author of two highly acclaimed books -- The Caregivers Survival Handbook and Home Safety for Seniors. For more information go to www.doctoralexis.com.

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