Aging Well: Safe at home

Program helps older adults pinpoint injury risks

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Home Safety Month

- For more information about receiving a free home safety visit in Routt County (for residents age 50 or older), call the Aging Well hotline, 871-7676.

- For tips on making homes safer for people of all ages, log onto www.homesafetycou... or call (888) 245-1527.

Ever since having her knee replaced, Yolanda Critchlow of Oak Creek has walked with a cane to stabilize her sometimes unsteady feet.

Although she's comfortable getting around her home, she decided to take advantage of a free home safety visit offered through the Visiting Nurse Association's Aging Well program.

During the visit, an occupational therapist identifies problems and suggests changes that will lessen a person's risk of falling or aggravating existing injuries or conditions.

"I wondered about whether I was actually as safe as I thought I was, so I just wanted to check to be sure," Critchlow said.

As it turns out, Critchlow was doing many things right, such as keeping heavy detergent bottles within easy reach in her laundry room. Occupational therapist Jane Sloan had some concerns, though, such as a rug and recumbent bike which posed tripping hazards.

Although Critchlow is not sure if she'll make some of the changes - there's not a better place for the bike, and the rug covers the hole her dog chewed in the carpet - she knows to take care when walking in those areas.

"It certainly helps a lot because you don't realize what a danger some things can be," she said. "Someone who really knows can point out the problems."

The overall goal of the home safety program, which is made possible with a grant from the Colorado Trust, is to prevent falls and debilitating injuries, which can lead to health problems and limit a person's independence and ability to live at home.

The vast majority of hip fractures, among the most severe of bone fractures, are caused by falls. Falls also are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Aging Well program has developed a referral system so that health care providers can connect older patients at risk for falls with the home safety program. Doctors also may refer patients to free Aging Well exercise classes that will improve their balance and strength and lessen their chance of falls or injuries.

The home safety program is important because, like home health and physical therapy programs, it brings healthcare professionals into a person's home to further identify their health needs and risks, said Brian Harrington, a physician at Yampa Valley Medical Associates.

Home remedies

Harrington, who is among doctors involved in Aging Well's referral system, emphasized that doctors can only determine so much about a patient during an office visit. By visiting a person at home, professionals can pick up on other aspects of their home or lifestyle that may pose risks.

In addition to safety hazards, an empty refrigerator, cold home or disheveled living environment can signal other problems.

"There's so much to be gained when you go into someone's house," Harrington said.

Doctors rarely are able to make house calls, so this team approach particularly is important in rural areas, where older adults can become isolated. Sight and hearing problems also may prevent older adults from receiving safety and health information through media sources, he said.

Sloan, an occupational therapist at Yampa Valley Medical Center, is one of two professionals who conduct the home safety visits. She starts by looking for common hazards, such as clutter and frayed rugs that could potentially cause falls. She also considers whether everyday items are within easy reach so that the older person isn't bending over or reaching more than necessary.

Keeping a favorite coffee cup by the coffee maker and an oft-used pot on the stove are examples of ways adults can simplify their routines to avoid strenuous movement.

Sloan considers clients' particular problems such as back pain or arthritis when making recommendations. Doing some activities sitting down and taking breaks during activities such as gardening,are among reminders that can help ease clients' pain and prevent an accident.

"We just talk to them about what will work with them, we want to keep people safe in their homes as long as possible," Sloan said.

In addition to simple suggestions, Sloan informs clients about assistive aids, such as shower bars, and home improvements that could make everyday routines easier. She leaves the client with a reader-friendly report including all her recommendations.

Even one small change, such as rearranging furniture, can help prevent that one bad fall that could send a person into a downward health spiral.

"We want to catch them while they are still in their homes and not wait until they have to leave their homes. : The goal is to keep them in their home as long as possible," Sloan said.

A fairly new program, home safety visits currently are available in Routt County, though Aging Well staff are working to offer similar opportunities in Moffat County.

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