# Tuesday, March 31, 2009
                 
IPSOS-Reid has just released a survey that shows 7 out of 10 seniors in Canada have mobility and/or health issues that affects their physical limitations as well as increases their risk of falling. 46% of these seniors do not use an assistive device, i.e. scooter, cane, walker. 63% of seniors who reported having a fall in the past year do not use an assistive device, even though life expectancy for seniors is reduced as much as 25% due to falls, as well as costing the Canadian healthcare system $1 billion annually.

According to these results, there is a major discrepancy between seniors who need these devices when the warning signs appear, and the willingness to do so. The survey indicated that two thirds of Canadian seniors believe that using an assistive device is a threat to their security; making them visible targets for crime. However, studies have shown that 9.5% were victims of reported crime in 2004; 28% of reported crimes were committed against people aged 15-24 in the same time period. Being stigmatized as 'old, vulnerable, frail, loss of independence, etc' were largely the number one reasons cited for not using a device that would not only improve their mobility, but help prevent falls.

Although the psychological impact of a senior feeling that they are losing their independence, assistive devices are intended with exactly the opposite in mind. They range from products that allow a person to bathe alone, help prepare food, to devices that assist with mobility. Grab bars, bath seats and non-slip floor mats greatly reduce the risk of accidental falls that occur when bathing, and can allow a senior to bathe unattended, thereby in actuality allowing them to retain their independence. Food preparation devices such as side-opening oven doors, height-adjustable cupboards and counters also allow for greater independence, giving a senior the equipment they need to safely and comfortably use their kitchens. Items such as automatic card shufflers allow seniors to continue their hobbies and enjoyment of life.  

It is estimated that one out of every 3 Canadian seniors will experience a fall at least once a year. Hip fractures are the most common injury, and approximately 20% of injuries sustained in falls will contribute to death. Health issues that can increase the risk of fall in seniors are:

•    Poor balance;
•    Decreased muscle and/or bone strength;
•    Reduction in vision;
•    Reduction in hearing;
•    Home conditions.

Almost half of all falls experienced by seniors occur in and/or around the home. Go through the home in order to determine where the possible danger areas are. Some suggestions for making the home safe:


Bathroom:

•    Rubber non-slip bath mat for the tub and shower.
•    Grab bars by the toilet and the bath which will help for sitting and/or standing.
•    Bath seat in the shower.
•    Raised toilet seat (if needed).

Living Room/Bedroom:

•    Clean up any loose wires and/or cords that may trip someone.
•    Reduce clutter and establish wide, clear walking paths.
•    Make sure that lights are all working (you may want to use a higher wattage light bulb now).
•    Use a cordless phone, this not only eliminates cords lying around, but allows the senior to have the phone with them always.
•    Ensure that scatter mats are of the non-slip variety. Normal scatter rugs are a hazard for slip and falls.

Kitchens:

•    Make sure that items that used daily are within reach, i.e. not in cupboards that require a mini-ladder to access them.
•    Store all heavy items in lower cupboards.
•    If you must use a step stool to access items, make sure it is a stable step stool that has a safety rail.
•    If you use floor wax, ensure that it is a non-skid formula.
•    Ask for help for any tasks that you do not feel that you can safely accomplish on your own.

Stairways:

•    Ensure that stairway lighting is well lit (this could include using higher wattage light bulbs).
•    Make sure that the handrails are safe and can safely accommodate weight.
•    For those who wear reading glasses, make sure you remove them before attempting to go up and/or down the stairs.
•    Take your time! Rushing up and down stairs is a major factor in falls.

Home Exterior:

•    Make sure that all walkways and outside steps are free of debris; especially in winter, make sure that all snow and ice are removed.
•    Keep the front entrance well lit.
•    Put all lawn and garden maintenance tools away in order to prevent accidentally falling over them.

If you are a senior who requires an assistive device that will improve your quality of life, check your health insurance coverage to see if these are included in your benefit package. Talk to your primary health provider about any issues you are currently dealing with; your physician can be very helpful in discussing products and devices that are suited for your needs. The Red Cross also has a ‘loan’ program for some assistive devices; consult with your local chapter.

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