According to the National Aging in Place Council, more than 90 percent of older adults would prefer to age in their current house or apartment rather the move into any type of senior housing. In order to achieve this with peace of mind and safety, there are a variety of steps to be taken to ensure the well-being of an older adult. One of the first steps is clearly fall prevention.
All too often falls result in emergency room visits. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that more than one in four people 65 and older suffer a fall each year. The real kicker in the stats available is that falling once actually doubles your chances of falling again! Bottom line is if you do have a fall in your home, you must make some changes to safeguard yourself going forward whether it be a move or perhaps a very honest look at your current environment and physical condition followed by corrective actions.
It’s important to note that falls can cause serious injuries such as broken bones or head trauma. If this type of accident occur, independent living and aging in place can get removed as an option. Let’s take a hard look at the preventative side of this question. Some of the causes of falls include general lower body weakness, Vitamin D deficiency, difficulties with walking and balance, reaction to medications, vision problems, and foot pain or improper footwear. The major issue however is “home hazards”.
If your doctor believes you are a good candidate to age in place, there are some precautions to take to ensure a safer and healthier lifestyle. Let’s start at ground level and work our way up.
Look at the floor in every room and hallway. Are there throw rugs that could slip or is clutter present that you might trip over? Are your stair ways clear? If items are in the way remove them immediately. Do your stairs have treads and clear lines so you can see where the edges are? There are many low cost products out there that can help with this. If there are one step changes in level in your living situation, are these clearly delineated? Are there handrails that will help you to safely move from one floor to the other? If handrails are absent, they should be installed as soon as possible on both sides of the stairs. And don’t stop there! Handrails are extremely helpful in bathrooms as well. People often ask me if they should put these up or not as they are concerned it will affect resale of the house. The answer to this is quite clear – put them up today! It does not affect resale very much if at all and your health and safety is so much more important.
Overall physical condition also plays a huge role in independent living. Practices that will help maintain and even improve balance need to be considered as regular activity you engage in. There are shows on television that teach low-impact exercise routines such as yoga and tai chi. Classes are also typically offered at senior centers; consult your community’s recreation director, senior center or office for the aging for nearby recommendations. Exercise DVDs are also a great gift idea for aging friends and relatives. Maintaining your ability to balance is critical.
It has been my experience that the motivation for keeping a house safe and sound can so often come after an accident occurs, and not before. That way of thinking needs to change, and older adults and their caregivers need to become much more proactive rather than reactive in order to live safely and well in your preferred living arrangement.
This article originally appeared in The Buffalo News Homefinder and is reprinted with permission.