By Janet Stephens

The prospect of an older relative taking a serious fall can be a legitimate cause for worry. The CDC reports that each year, more than one out of four seniors falls (more than one in three, according to the National Institute on Aging), and one out of five falls causes a serious injury. More likely to fall than younger adults, seniors also have a more difficult time recovering from falls. Indeed, hip fractures set the stage for a whole host of activities detrimental to the senior’s health. It’s best to stay securely on one’s feet, and walk into the doctor’s office for regular check-ups!

Prevention is the best medicine: reduce fall hazards ahead of time.

What are possible causes of trips? According to the National Institute on Aging, common fall hazards include:

* a slick floor
* a poorly lit stairway
* loose rugs
* clutter on the floor or stairs
* carrying heavy or bulky things up or down stairs
* lack of stair railings
* lack of grab bars in the bathroom

Some of this information cuts close to home. My own mother fell in her home, ended up in the hospital, then moved to nursing facilities–and she never returned to her own home. The fall exacerbated her poor health and accelerated her death.

Until recently, my dad lived in a well-designed retirement home in Seattle, where it is evident that they’ve thought about all of these hazards. The floors are carpeted, everything is well lit, the common areas are uncluttered, there are well-situated elevators, the stairs all have sturdy railings, and there are grab bars and pull-cord alarms in every resident’s bathroom. Yet about one month ago, my dad took a fall in his apartment, hit his head, and ended up on the floor. Confusion meant that he didn’t pull the cord alarm, but instead walked down to the front desk. Now he’s in a skilled nursing facility trying to recover.

So I do wonder about those seniors who lack resources and don’t have family nearby to help them. Luckily, there’s CESC’s Home Repair Program, available to qualifying residents of Berkeley, unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County, and Oakland. It’s like having a handy son-in-law nearby—one with a day job in construction!

The CESC team begins by inspecting the home for safety. The team looks at the exterior, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, and common living areas. In every area, the team is thinking about many different kinds of hazards, but especially about fall hazards. According to Gregory Clark, CESC’s Construction Services Manager, “Delayed maintenance and improper installation are the main culprits I’ve personally seen. Ragged carpet on stairs, hand railing mounts secured to nothing more than plaster or Sheetrock, bad lighting—the list is endless.”  

* Exterior
Is there a walkway, stair, or ramp? If so, are the steps in good condition, and are the risers even? Are there sturdy hand railings? Is there lighting for the stairs?

* Kitchen
Is the floor surface even and in good repair?

* Bathroom
Is the floor in good repair, and are any rugs adhered securely to the floor? Is there a grab bar in the shower? How about a non-skid surface?

* Bedroom
Is there adequate floor space for mobility, and is the floor space clear of hazards? Is the lighting from the bedroom to the bathroom adequate?

* Common living areas
Are there accumulated belongings blocking throughways? Do electrical cords pose a trip risk? Are interior stairs level, not slippery, and in good condition?

After CESC provides repairs, clients typically describe a sense of relief and of empowerment at the improved state of their homes. These repairs and education mean a greater sense of well-being that living in a safe and well-maintained home can provide. Here is what some clients from the Home Repair Program have to say:

“It feels good to know that you checked out all of my functions and brought me up to health and safety regulations. I just feel safer!”

“You made such a big difference on the comfort and safety that I feel now.”

“[CESC] put in something for us to hold onto as we go down the steps because we are slowly losing our balance. Because it’s easy to fall down at our age, we gotta be very careful. . . .I am hoping and praying that they continue to have this program. . . I recommend anyone that’s low-income to this service, because it’s very helpful.”  

Could you or someone you know benefit from this program? Contact CESC, or help us spread the word by sharing this blog.