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Staying Safe in Your Dotage

Gotta share this little essay I just posted at Quora. The prompt question was “How Can We Reduce the Number of Falls among Senior Citizens?”

Good question, eh? Here’s what I propose:

  1. Live in a place that has a minimal number of stairs. These are ridiculously easy to trip on.
  2. Where a step or more is unavoidable (for example, my house has a sunken family room, meaning that to get in or out of it, I have to step down or up), have a banister or countertop that you can hang onto whenever you have to navigate the steps. Train yourself to put a hand on this countertop or banister before taking the first step up or down, and hang on for the whole journey.
  3. Have several extensions (if you have a landline) or several cell phones that can be used to dial 911. Place these in strategic positions near the floor. For example, I have one in the bathroom (I set it within reach of the tub any time I take a bath or shower), one in the family room, one in each bedroom, one in the kitchen, and one in the dining room. DO NOT assume you will remember to carry a phone around everywhere you go when you’re at home: equip the home with many phones that can be reached from the floor and can dial 911. If these are cells, be sure they’re kept charged.
  4. Be sure each room has plenty of lighting. Make it easy to turn these on and off — at least one light in each room should turn on and off with a wall switch near an entry.
  5. Train dogs and cats to stay out from underfoot while their humans are walking around. This is easier said than done; you may need to hire a professional trainer for some pets.
  6. Do not(!!) have throw rugs laying around on the floors. Where you really need a throw rug — such as a bathroom rug next to the tub — be sure it has a latex backing or place a non-slip mat under it.
  7. Be sure your shoes and slippers have non-slide soles. Do not wear footwear that might slip on a tile, linoleum or wood floor.
  8. Do try to remember to carry a cheap, charged-up flip phone in a pocket at all times, except when you’re actually laying in bed or bathing in the tub or shower. Again, bear in mind: BY LAW ALL CELL PHONES HAVE TO BE ABLE TO REACH 911, no expensive connection required. This means that if you fall, you can use the phone to call the Fire Department or the Police, but you can’t call anyone else with it. I use these throw-away phones as an emergency SOS device when I walk the dog.
  9. Inspect sidewalks in the neighborhood. Look for places where the pavement is heaved and where the curb might not be easily visible at dusk or in the dark. Be sure to point these out carefully to the elder and remind them to watch their step in that area. If the sidewalk is heaved, call the city and ask them to come fix the paving.
  10. Suggest that the person carry a walking stick, whether or not they need it for mobility. I carry a hiking stick with me every time I walk the dog, not so much to avoid falls but as a shilelagh for self-defense — we have many drug-addled transients, prowlers, and coyotes in these parts. While I have indeed used it to chase off all comers (including Wile E. Coyote), it also works nicely as a support when stepping up and down curbs and around heaved pavement.
  11. Get plenty of exercise. I walk one to two miles a day, which I consider minimal. If that’s not practical, join a health club where you can exercise on their machines and swim in their pool. Use it or lose it!

And finally, if you have cleaning or yard care help coming in to do housework or outdoor maintenance, keep an eye on what they’re doing. They often don’t realize that some of your eccentricities — such as placing phone extensions on or near the floor — are there for a reason, so they’ll readjust things to fit their definition of sanity.

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