Prevent dangerous falls at home

If, as the adage says, "Old age ain't for sissies," the first challenge in the privacy of one's home may well be standing one's ground to avoid a fall.

Each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 3 people over 65 falls. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths, according to the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.

What starts as a simple misstep may cause many seniors to lose their health, their independence and even their lives.

What's more, feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, growing numbers of seniors nowadays may be unable to sell their homes — and therefore need to make them safer, says Dr. Marion Somers, a geriatric care manager in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"That's what is making people look at their own place, or a family member's house if they are living with them, and evaluate, how can we make this senior-friendly and safer?" says Somers, who wrote "Elder Care Made Easier" (Addicus Books, 2006). "With this economy, (many) seniors and their families are not able to afford the cost of nursing homes and assisted living facilities."

Geriatric-care managers such as Somers help caretakers and aging family members create a plan of care, which may include home safety. Resources that can be found on the Internet include the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers and the National Aging in Place Council. Some private businesses will come evaluate your home.

It may seem surprising that so many people fall in their own bedroom, kitchen or bathroom, when home is supposed to be a sanctuary. Yet "some of the seemingly most innocent rooms in the home can actually be the most dangerous," says Somers. "It's important to look at your own home as if you are seeing it for the first time, and evaluate it with a fresh set of eyes."

For instance, in the bathroom, "a 1/2;-inch rise in the floor may seem like nothing to us, but for someone who has trouble lifting their feet and shuffles around, this could cause them to trip," she says.

"Elderly falls at home have long been the silent epidemic that leads to injuries and often results in nursing home placement," says Dr. Cheryl Phillips, incoming president of the American Geriatrics Society. The most dangerous room for falls, she says, is the bathroom, because of maneuvering between the bathtub, shower and toilet. "Lots of risk factors come into play, and medications that cause dizziness or weakness are the biggest single factor," she says. "And falls often accompany getting up in the night."

Phillps also recommends removing throw rugs, even if they have been in place for years, and skip buying loose rugs that aren't clearly slip-resistant. Also, choose uniform flooring, rather than uneven walkways throughout the house, she says.

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