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Fall Prevention: Key to Home Safety

What happens if you fall and cannot get up?  Many of us have seen the television commercial depicting this scenario — and maybe even poked fun at it.  But, falling is actually no laughing matter.  September was National Fall Prevention Month and the statistics surrounding falls should definitely be taken seriously as they impact everyone….especially the senior populous.

Statistically, approximately 80% fall in or immediately around their home and 80% of those falls happen in the bathroom.  According to Age Safe America (2018) “falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of all nursing home admissions.  Moreover, 40% of those admitted will never return to independent living and 25% will die within one year.” 

Falls result in injury, long-term disability, premature loss of independence and death. 

The facts speak for themselves and the implications can be life-threatening, or altering, at the very least. 

·  One-third of adults 65 or older will fall in or around their home.

·  One-half of those over age 80 fall every year

·  One out of every three seniors will fall each year

·  Every 11 seconds a senior adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall

·  Every 19 minutes an older adult will die from a fall

·  Women are more likely to fall than men

 (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014 and 2018)

The U.S. Census Bureau concluded in 2012 that the vast majority of older adults in America live in private homes.  Most older households—and particularly owners—prefer to remain in their own homes (Keenan 2010a).  Maintaining independence is important to seniors as they age and 90% of older Americans want to age in their own homes rather than in an assisted living or retirement community (Age Safe America, 2018).  For this reason, the New England Burden of Disease (BODE) report affirms there is good evidence that home safety assessment and modification (HSAM) is both effective and cost-effective for preventing falls in older people. (Pega F, et al., 2016).   The goal of HSAM is to assess the safety of the home environment with the objective of making it a suitable and safe environment for one to spend their golden years.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University (2014) found that the five most important universal design features in the home are: no-step entries, extra-wide hallways, accessible living spaces on the ground floor and accessible light switches and door levers. However, the survey data indicated that only 1% of housing units in America have all five of these features. 

Below are some simple home modification changes that can make a measurable impact on fall safety at home:

· Installing ramps or a zero-step entrance for the home.

· Handrails at existing steps and porches.

· Grab bars in the shower.

· Curbless showers so that there is nothing to step over and can be rolled into with a wheelchair.

· Higher toilets with non-slam seats and lids.

· Lower light switches and thermostats and raised outlets.

· Wider doors that accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.

On their website, Age Safe America (2018) further outlines the following “simple things you can do to reduce your fall risk”:

1) Begin a regular exercise program.

2) Have your vision checked annually.

3) Wear sturdy, nonskid shoes at all times.

4) Make your home environment safer.

One of the easiest ways to make your home environment safer and to provide peace-of-mind when it comes to fall safety is to use a medical alert device known as a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a consumer information webpage featuring these medical alert devices which are designed to let you call for help in an emergency simply by pushing a button. There are three components to a PERS: 1) a small radio transmitter, 2) a console connected to your telephone, and 3) an emergency response center that monitors calls.

At over 70 million, Baby Boomers are currently the largest living adult generation and the AARP has concluded that a boomer will turn 65 every 8 seconds. (2011)  The oldest baby boomer turned 72 in January 2018 and expects technology solutions to assist them as they age.  With the cost of long-term care out of reach for many, older adults and those who care for them will look for solutions that make lives easier and more fulfilling,” says Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch (2018).

The PERS medical alert device is a great technology tool to improve safety in the home. 

There are various PERS products on offer from traditional push-button pendants connected to a call box within the home to GPS mobile units to “go anywhere” devices.  There are positives and negatives linked to every option but some key facts appear to make the traditional around-the-neck pendant connected to a call box the most effective, safe and economical choice.

Apple has developed their “Watch Series 4” which has built in fall detection and will contact emergency services or someone from your contact list (if the setting is turned on) but it still appears to lack the full-scale safety opportunities that a standard PERS medical alarm can offer.  This is a high-tech device that has positives and negatives.  One major issue would be that the watch would have to be taken off in order to be charged.  This leaves a safety issue, because the majority would charge it during the night and run the risk of a potential fall risk when they get up to use the restroom, as we all do, in the middle of the night.  It is not going to help them, if they do not have it on their person…  ADDITIONALLY, many seniors have fear of technology and are not tech savvy!  

Around the Clock Medical Alarms recalls a client who switched from their most-basic around-the-neck, light-weight, waterproof pendant to a wireless GPS unit.  The subscriber thought it would be a better solution to the home-based device because she bought into the advertised idea of being able to “go anywhere”.  But she found it heavy, spent the majority of her time in and around the home (thus not needing the ability to “go anywhere”) and ultimately left it on the charger and ended up falling.  As a result, she laid in her apartment, alone, for three days.  Once she recovered and was out of the hospital her son called and immediately switched back to our service which protected her every day until she passed months later.

The Apple Watch and 3G pendants all need to be recharged on a daily basis, but the very basic around-the-neck medical alarm battery will last up to 5 years before needing to be replaced. Users will be notified when the battery is showing up as low and the customer will be contacted to have it replaced free of charge.

Upon researching the market there are numerous companies and products to select from at different price and technology ranges but not all seem to offer such a comprehensive safety and reaction solution as the very basic PERS medical alarm.  With this option you are able to not only have fall safety covered but these very affordable devices also help with a multitude of other possible non-emergent or medical emergency issues.  The response does not have to be lights and sirens AND you do not have to fall to be alarm appropriate!

Fall prevention is important to maintain quality of life and dignity of age.  If they are 65 or older and fall, break a hip, and go to a nursing home, 50% will die within a year.  But, if they have a medical alarm and push the button to get help quickly, they will have a far better chance of recuperating and being able to return home instead of going into a nursing home.  An Around the Clock Medical Alarm system will not prevent a fall, or medical emergency, but it will get help IF it happens to YOU!

Ultimately, as we age, we all want to remain independent and to have the best quality of life possible.  Simple home modifications, staying in good physical health, getting home care, if needed, and making a small investment in a medical alarm device (PERS) are great ways to ensure you have the best chance of living out the golden years in the comfort of your own home.

Author – Michelle Figg, B.A., M.A. has been working within the fields of marketing communications, higher education and journalistic communications in the United States and United Kingdom since 2001.