I heard something that made me think at a craft workshop last night as post-Thanksgiving stories were being shared. Fellow crafter Ashley talked about her concerns about her Dad in New Orleans, who had crushed his ankle in a fall from a ladder several months earlier. Although much improved, he is still hobbling a little and refuses to believe that if his physical therapy hurts it’s being done right! I asked how the fall had happened–I admit, I was ready to recommend a micromesh leaf gutter guard so Ashley’s father wouldn’t have to get up there and clean gutters ever again. But I was surprised to be told Dad had been making repairs to the roof and that he is 83! Before his fall, though, Dad was in excellent health and didn’t believe in calling “those handymen fellers” for repairs he felt able to deal with.
We’ve talked in this blog about how people can be nervous about getting on ladders, and many with good reason. Ashley’s story sent me to the CDC website to check the numbers on falls in older adults. What I discovered was startling and alarming:
1. Among older adults (those 65 or older), falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
2. One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year.
3. In 2008, over 19,700 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries. In 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized.
Well my first reaction was that Ashley’s dad could have been worse off. Seriously. According to the CDC, 20 to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as fractured hips and head trauma. “These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently and can increase the risk of early death.” That made me think about how so many older adults want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. And sometimes, like Ashley’s dad, it’s hard for them to admit that they can’t do quite what they used to.
Everyone dreads “that” conversation that parents and adult children may one day have to have about whether it’s time to give up driving. But dangers from falls are often overlooked. After a fall, many people, even they are not injured or make a good recovery, “develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and physical activity, which in turn increases their actual risk of falling.”
So whether you are an older adult who wants to “age in place,” or you are offspring who want to make sure their parents’ quality of life is as high as possible, consider the very sensible advice from the CDC on how to reduce the risks of falling. Their website suggests that older adults should:
1. Exercise regularly. It is important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance, and that they get more challenging over time. Tai Chi programs are especially good.
2. Ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medicines – both prescription and over-the-counter – to identify medicines that may cause side effects or interactions such as dizziness or drowsiness.
3. Have their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update their eyeglasses to maximize their vision. Consider getting a pair with single vision distance lenses for some activities such as walking outside.
4.Make their homes safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, adding stair railings and improving the lighting in their homes.
All good ideas, and here’s another: try to reduce the need for ladders. Invest in LCD or compact fluorescent light bulbs, which need changing far less often than the old-fashioned incandescents. Remove food, books and other items from top shelves that are hard to reach. If you do have to go up a ladder, have someone else to hold it. Do some research–get a recommendation for a handyman before you need someone to do minor repairs. And if you or a loved one struggle with gutter cleaning in spring and fall, MasterShield’s unique patented Hydrovortex technology will keep gutters clean and clog free, guaranteeing you peace of mind and ladders that get dusty in the garage.
Do you have some safety tips for climbing up ladders and cleaning gutters? Tell us about them – we’re always interesting to hear about people’s home maintenance experiences.