Simple Steps Can Help Prevent Dangerous Falls in Seniors' Homes

One way seniors can minimize falls is by adding a plastic shower chair to ease access in and out of the tub. If walking on stairs is perilous, consider installing a stair chair that electrically glides up and down the steps.
One way seniors can minimize falls is by adding a plastic shower chair to ease access in and out of the tub. If walking on stairs is perilous, consider installing a stair chair that electrically glides up and down the steps. (Associated Press)
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By Francine Parnes
For the Associated Press
Saturday, February 7, 2009

For people who want to stay in their homes as they age, avoiding falls is a top priority.

Because of the economic downturn, growing numbers of seniors might be unable to sell their homes and therefore need to make them safer, said Marion Somers, a geriatric care manager in Brooklyn.

"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?" said Somers, who wrote "Elder Care Made Easier" (Addicus Books, 2006). "With this economy, seniors and their families are not able to afford the cost of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities."

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

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

Geriatric care managers such as Somers help caretakers and aging family members create a plan of care, which might 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 businesses will come to evaluate your home.

It might 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," Somers said. "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 half-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 said.

"Elderly falls at home have long been the silent epidemic that leads to injuries and often results in nursing home placement," said Dr. Cheryl Phillips, the incoming president of the American Geriatrics Society, which represents health-care professionals who serve seniors.

The most dangerous room for falls, she said, 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 said. "And falls often accompany getting up in the night."

Some safety solutions might surprise you. Think a rug always provides protection against a slippery marble or tile floor? Think again.

"The single most important thing to remove is throw rugs, even if they have been in place for years," said Jonna Borgdorff, a physical therapist in Oak Park, Ill., and national rehabilitation director for Interim HealthCare, a company that provides home care for the elderly.


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