Winter-proofing

Whether you’re an older adult or somebody who’s caring for an older family member, most of us want to live out our lives in our own homes, for as long as it’s safe to do so. The key is to make the “safe to do so” part last, and we can start toward that goal by adapting the home with an eye on safety.

If there’s only one improvement you can manage for now, fall-proofing is it. Falls are potentially deadly, life-altering, and expensive. The financial burden of fall-related costs to taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid was $674 billion as of 2020, a cost that has only risen since then.

Falls are the single leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injury for American older adults. Not all falls are avoidable, but nor are they inevitable. Let’s get working on prevention, starting with some zero- and low-cost options. Start with one room at a time and work systematically so that the job doesn’t overwhelm.

Decluttering? Sort and be ruthless. As you go through your belongings in each room, have three piles – what you need to keep; what can be sold, donated, or put into storage; and what can be thrown away. If there’s something that you haven’t used in at least a year, and no chance it’ll be used soon, away it goes. It’s sad but true: family heirlooms are rarely needed by grown children and grandchildren. We’ll have more ideas on what to do with items of sentimental value in a future column.

Lose the throw rugs and carpets. They can be slipping/tripping hazards. Remove them or replace them with mats that have a non-slip backing. Non-slip mats are essential for bathrooms as well.

If it’s in the wrong room, put it back. Where’s the screwdriver? You brought it in from the garage to fix a loose door hinge, and then the phone rang, and the dog was hungry, and the Giants game was on, and…we know. While you’re in decluttering mode is the time to put things back in their correct location.

Need a bathroom grab bar? Many fall-prevention improvements are as simple as a trip to the hardware store. If it’s time to replace a doorknob, look for one with a lever handle. They’re easier on aging hands.

Get off that ladder. Outdoors falls at height are some of the most dangerous falls, and this time of year is when they’re most common. One misstep and you could have a broken bone or a head or spinal injury. You could be unconscious with nobody aware that you have fallen because you’re outside.

Golden Living is prepared by the Dutchess County Office for the Aging,ofa@dutchessny.gov website: www.dutchessny.gov/aging

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