Seniors Living Independent

fall prevention

Falling is scary. It is especially scary as an older adult. Unfortunately for seniors fall are a leading indicator for entry into a skilled nursing facility. That fact always shocks me no matter how many times I read it. There is good news.  It is possible to prevent many falls. One of the best tools in fall prevention is the grab bar.  I have blogged about grab bars before but they are such an integral part of fall prevention that they cannot be mentioned  often enough.

When should you get a grab bar?  It is my opinion that all bathrooms should have grab bars.  It is a wet environment and anyone can get hurt in a fall.  We hold the hand rail when the subway stairs are wet and yet we grasp flimsy things like towel bars or slippery surfaces like sinks for entry and exit of the bath.  If you or someone you love does not have a grab bar please consider that to be an important step in preventing a fall.

The number one objection that I hear is that they don’t want the bathroom to look medical.  I quite agree with this sentiment.  Luckily companies like Moen and Healthcraft also agree and have created very attractive grab bars that also serve other purposes like holding towels, toilet paper or acting as a shelf.  Check out their websites to see how great they look.

New Guidelines For Fall Prevention

At Home Technologies is about preparing your home to help you age in place but it is at least as important to prepare yourself and your body.  Their American Geriatric Society cites strong evidence that combining environmental modification (grab bars, fewer hazards) with a focus on overall fall prevention such as getting eyes checked, medications reviewed, exercise etc. is an effective strategy.  The New York Times New Old Age blog talks about the new recommendations of the American Geriatric Society.

One of the big changes in the guidelines is the specific recommendation to do Thai Chi as exercise.  It just makes common sense that exercises that improve balance would decrease falls but I am really glad that the research is backing that up. You don’t even need to find a local class although that would be fun and social. I have seen DVDs of Thai Chi available. When it comes to fall prevention I encourage using every tool in the box.

The Geriatric group also recommended that all medications be reviewed to identify any that might cause an increase in the risk of falls. 

These are the guidelines given for those who need a risk evaluation  vs those who have a fall that is an isolated incident.  Of course, an evaluation never hurts.

  • An elderly person worried or frightened by a fall
  • Two or more falls in the last year
  • One or more falls with injury
  • Repeated difficulty with balance when walking

Here is the link to the American Geriatric Societies paper

Many senior focused products, few common sense solutions

The attached article “In a Graying Population, Business Opportunity“, many products are being designed for the aging baby boom generation. Many of these products are being incorporated into new high tech, green, active senior centers. Products are also being developed that are not very practical.  A anthropomotric robot following a senior around for an afternoon might be fun, but is it a cost effective long term solution? Who is servicing the robot? It is adding to the risk of falls?

When reviewing products that support aging in place, it is important to focus on practical solutions that are not intrusive but provide 24/7 support. Grab bars in the bathroom and reduced clutter are a highly effective, low cost way to reduce the risk of falls. Passive sensor technology does not require action on the part of the senior, but help caregivers remain connected and supportive. A very important point is that these steps can be taken early, in your own home, without the need to go into expensive assisted living facilities.

Grab bar alternatives

Kohler announced an alternative to a grab bar at the International Builders show. It is an effort to reach those who recognize that they need some stability in the shower or bath but are loath to get a grab bar installed. Unfortunately, vanity does not come cheaply. It requires a relatively large redo of the bath wall but it is a real step toward true universal design.

The Kohler Belay (a nod to rock-climbing) is a rail that is installed in the wall.  Essentially, the wall bumps out at the handrail site.  It does looks really nice.  See the link below for more information.  I like that companies are starting to think outside the box to encourage everyone to increase bath safety.  Grab bars on the other hand are indeed increasingly stylish and can match almost any decor. 

Having a grab bar installed does not make you old it makes you smart.

Feel Better at 100

The New York Times had an insightful, practical article about, “What to do now to feel better at 100“. It discusses the obvious fact that you loose physical strength as you age but it makes the important point that starting an exercise routine early in life can meaningfully delay the affects of aging and improve your physical functionality later in life. The article references a newly published book by Dr. Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at the New York Presbyterian Healthcare System called, “Treat Me, Not My Age”(Viking).  The goal is to take steps today to improve your strength and flexibility, in order to postpone the time when physical independence can no longer be maintained.

The article goes on to state that as with your body, making small changes to your physical environment can enhance life as you get order. Making small improvements at home can help you keep your independence, age in place and minimize the risk of injury. There are many issues in the home that can jeopardize older peoples ability to function safely on their own. These include: poor lighting, tubs and showers that are hard to use, tripping hazards, etc.. Making small changes to address these issues today, can improve your ability to remain independent.

The article quotes Dr. Lachs as saying, “These things are underpublicized, underappreciated and underutilized,”.  Most fixes are simple and unobtrusive and “many are dirt-cheap,” he said, adding that if money is tight, it is best spent on improvements in the bathroom.