NOELLE MERRILL

Small changes around the house limit risk of falls

Posted Dec. 15, 2011, at 1:38 p.m.

Over the past decade, organizations that serve the elderly have been tooting the horn of “evidence-based” healthy aging programs. In case you’ve never heard of these programs, the term means there is proof out there in a lab that they work.

The first evidence-based program we ran at Eastern Area Agency on Aging was Matter of Balance. Now we have Growing Stronger, Healthy Choices and Living Well, programs all proven to help older adults live and age well.

I observed a couple of the Matter of Balance courses and was very impressed with the results reported to me by participants. Prior to the class, some participants couldn’t go from sitting to standing without risking a fall. Afterward, they knew the right way to get in and out of a chair and had built some strength to help them get up without assistance.

A couple of years ago, we teamed up with Husson University to provide fall risk assessments to older adults. Since then, many have learned about their risk level for falling.

It was at this year’s Senior Health Fair in October that I decided to do the assessment myself. It’s hard to recommend something if you don’t really know what it’s all about. Not that I felt I had any problems with falling; I thought my most immediate danger of falling was when I reached for a ground ball in volleyball.

The assessment starts with questions about your home, which I think is where “younger old people” like me will score poorly. For example, are there hand rails on the full length and both sides of all stairs and are all stairs well lit? Is there any clutter on the stairs? Many answer “yes” to that question, the assessor said, because often people put shoes, laundry and all sorts of things on the stairs when they don’t want to go up or down them.

Is your home free of clutter? I know there’s a hassock I beat my shin into every single morning before I get to the light. Are your belongings within reach? Do you have night lights in the bedroom and bathroom? Do you clean up spills immediately? And here is a big issue: Do you have area rugs? They almost ensure a slip and fall, no matter what your age. In the bathroom, have you installed grab bars? Do you clean the soap scum in your tub? Did you install anti-skid materials on the tub-shower floor?

I didn’t do that well on the environment score, but I certainly learned about how to improve my house for the long haul. As you may guess, I did alright on the vision, medication, history and physical score. It was hard to balance on one foot, but my competitive side made me overachieve, of course.

If you haven’t completed one of these assessments, I highly recommend you call Eastern Area Agency on Aging to set up an appointment. Learn about all the other programs that can help you stay at home for the maximum number of years.

If I could just relax on snow days and not go out running, I might not fall ever, and that should be the goal.

Noelle Merrill is executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.

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