I have a friend of many years who collects cookbooks containing spectacular dessert recipes. As you might expect, dinner at that home is a complete delight.
Prompted by her enthusiasm and an after-dinner discussion about older adult foibles and faults (commonly referred to as an “organ recital”), I decided I, too, need to start a collection. But I’m electing to focus on acquiring an array of photographs portraying spectacular falls.
“Huh?” You’re probably saying. I totally understand the reaction, but I have a point to make; it’s both educational and life-saving.
My collection of photographs is growing, and it depicts older adults in well-worn slippers tumbling down carpeted (fortunately) stairs or elders falling face-forward out of wheelchairs into (fortunately) grassy flower beds. There is one photo with an otherwise beautifully aging woman tangled on the floor beside her walker. Her dog stands nearby looking completely bewildered at the havoc he probably caused.
My passion for collecting these photos is a bit maudlin, I know. But I may have already made an impact by prompting people to pay more attention when walking down stairs in the early morning or while rolling a walker or wheelchair on uneven grass. The approach I’m using might even deserve a celebration. “Huh?” (You may be asking yet again.)
Mark your calendar: Sept. 22, 2018, is the first day of autumn and the 10th Annual Fall Prevention Awareness Day. This is big, folks. Falls are “the leading cause of injury death, unintentional injuries and hospital admissions” according to the National Council on Aging. You may not be able to avoid the diagnosis of the diabetes your father and grandfather had or the osteoporosis and age-related macular degeneration your mother endured, but you can definitely protect yourself from fall and fracture.
Bathrooms are where 80 percent of falls occur. Start there. Begin by taking a shower. As you enter your bathing area, do you find you steady yourself by resting a hand on the tiled wall? Vertical grab bar needed there. You may be saying, maybe even with a bit of irritation. “I already have a grab bar in my shower!” And when I press you, you indicate it’s the suction cup kind. They are, frankly, more hazardous than helpful. And increasingly older adults find they need not one but two or three well-secured grab bars of different lengths, individualized to the persons using the shower and placed strategically throughout the bathing area — vertically, diagonally and horizontally. Ideally, they need to be “peened” which means they have a texturized finish that enhances your grip.
When you are in the shower, think about other items to might help you exit safely having had a falls-free bathing experience. You might need a dual head shower? A sturdy shower chair with removable arms? Or what about a better solution than that rubbery bath mat that keeps folding over on itself and creating more in-tub trip hazard than it resolves. Just saying.
Please look for ways to celebrate a falls-free lifestyle on Sept. 22. The ideas above are only the beginning. I am constantly adding to my collection.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org