More than 600,000 elderly people are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for injuries caused in the home, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a nationwide safety program yesterday to help alleviate the household hazards that may cause these accidents.
The CPSC has allotted $35,000 for the project: distributing to senior citizens a home safety checklist that identifies the most common household hazards and recommends relatively inexpensive ways to correct them, and hiring groups to survey conditions in their homes and give them advice.
The burden of the project's implementation will be on state and local organizations along with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Falls in the bathroom and on the stairs, burns and smoke inhalation from fires, scaldings from hot tap water, and electric shock are the most frequent accidents involving older people, the CPSC said.
"Our nation's seniors slip and slide in home accidents to the tune of $3 billion annually," said Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), who is chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and who is implementing the first CPSC home safety audit program for the elderly in his state. "The tendency for older bones to break more easily and heal more slowly predisposes those over 65 to a harder fall and more lasting injury."
The number of Americans who are 65 years and older has increased dramatically in recent years, the safety agency said. More than 28 million people -- 12 percent of the U.S. population -- will be 65 or older this year.
Falls are the most common cause of fatal injury for older people, said CPSC Commissioner Saundra Brown Armstrong, who heads the project. In 1982, more than 2,500 elderly people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that resulted from tripping over rugs and runners.
Among the CPSC recommendations to the elderly:
* Apply double-faced adhesive carpet tape to the backs of rugs or place rubber matting under them.
* Buy a step stool with a handrail to hold onto while standing on top.
* Install ground fault circuit interrupters, a shock-protection device that will detect an electrical fault and immediately shut off electricity.
* Relocate electric heaters away from passageways and flammable materials such as curtains, rugs and furniture.
* Apply textured strips or appliques to the floors of tubs and showers. Use nonskid mats in the tub or shower and on the bathroom floor. Attach grab bars through the tile to structural supports in the wall or to the sides of the bathtub.
* Don't smoke in bed, and remove sources of heat or flame from areas around beds. Burns are a leading cause of accidental death among seniors.
* Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairs with handrails on both sides.
* Place one smoke detector on every floor in the home, and check the batteries and bulbs.
Heinz audited the home of an elderly widow whose smoke detector had a dead battery. "A potentially tragic situation had a $1.60 solution -- a new battery," he said.