Millions of seniors end up in the hospital every year in the U.S. because of falls and other accidents -- roughly a third of all hospital visits for people over age 65. Many of these injuries happen at home and could have been prevented with some careful planning, according to a local senior care company.
Home Instead Senior Care, a company that provides in-home care for the elderly, is offering free home inspections in Mountain View and neighboring cities over the next few months to hunt down any household hazards that could lead to an accident.
According to a survey commissioned by Home Instead of 600 seniors and 100 emergency room physicians, 65 percent of seniors' homes have potential safety hazards, and almost half of accidents in the home were avoidable. The survey also found that 85 percent of seniors do not take steps to get rid of home hazards as they get older.
Common issues include tripping hazards, like throw rugs, storage that's out of reach or a lack of grab bars to hold onto in the bathroom, according to Michelle Rogers, the franchise owner of Home Instead in Mountain View. She said older people are not as steady on their feet, and could benefit from these small improvements in the home.
But some of the hazards are a little less obvious. Rogers said one of the homes recently visited had newspapers scattered on the floor. She said family members would just drop them once they were done without realizing that it's easy to slip on them and fall. Clutter in general can be a problem for seniors, especially in hallways that make it hard to maneuver around with a walker.
"You're just trying to get rid of the accident that's waiting to happen," Rogers said.
Slipping and falling can be devastating for seniors. At El Camino Hospital, around 15 percent of the senior hospital visits are for injuries from falling, according to Margaret Wilmer, director of senior health services at the hospital. Those injuries include open wounds, bruises and fractures.
The problem is two-fold: seniors are more susceptible to falling as they age, and they are more likely to be injured when they do fall. Wilmer said as people age, they may suffer from impaired vision, muscle atrophy, cognitive impairment and balance issues, making it harder to maneuver around without falling. Seniors who have diabetes, arthritis or had a stroke are also at increased risk.
Medications also play a role, and Wilmer said seniors need to be aware that what they're taking might make them unsteady on their feet. Multiple medications, specifically combinations of drugs, can cause seniors to experience dizziness and other side-effects that can cause a fall.
Wilmer said she encourages seniors to check with a physician, and that the senior health services at El Camino Hospital will continue to focus on fall prevention programs.
Many safety suggestions rely on family members to help make the house a safe place.
"It just makes it so much easier to get things done when family members are talking about solutions and getting productive," Rogers said.
To request a home safety check or get a home safety checklist, call the Home Instead Senior Care office at 650-691-9671