At-Home Injuries: Stats and Safety Tips
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What are the most common at-home injuries and how can seniors keep themselves safe?
At best, a fall is a reminder that getting around the house isn’t as easy as it used to be. Occasionally, however, the consequences for seniors are far more severe. 3 million older Americans are treated for fall-related injuries each year and over 800,000 are hospitalized. A fall can run the gamut from cuts and scrapes to fractured bones and traumatic brain injuries. Annual costs for treating these injuries are estimated at around $70 billion.
The post-fall recovery process is another obstacle altogether. A slow effort to regain mobility and independence can leave seniors struggling with feelings of depression. Nobody wants to be a burden, but it’s hard to feel confident when you’re recuperating from a fractured hip or concussion. While these are extreme examples, even a relatively mild fall can have a serious mental health impact.
Regular exercise — under the supervision of a doctor — can help seniors maintain the maximum possible flexibility, mobility, and balance. A doctor can also identify any medications that might cause you to feel dizzy or drowsy and potentially fall.
Where mobility is a serious concern, seniors and their families should consider making changes around the home, for example:
- Placing non-slip mats wherever floors might become wet or slippery.
- Adding handrails and/or seats to the shower and tub.
- Removing loose rugs and any clutter from heavily-trafficked areas.
- Ensuring all rooms are well-lit.
- Installing handrails on both sides of each set of stairs.
Don’t let embarrassment or the fear of losing independence keep you from talking to your doctor. Fewer than half of adults inform their doctors when they experience a slip or fall in the home. Neglecting to do so only risks prolonging injuries and missing out on much-needed care.
Worried about falling? Even the fear of a fall can mean making lifestyle changes that force seniors to miss out on the things they love. With less activity, they run the risk of getting weaker and, ultimately, increase the chances of a serious injury.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a simple self-assessment to determine whether or not you’re at risk for a fall and to what degree. Share the results with your doctor for additional information on safeguarding your home and protecting your well-being.
Burn treatments are infamously terrible at any age. For seniors with weakened immune systems, they’re especially unpleasant. Older Americans are not only more likely to suffer burns, they’re significantly more likely to experience lengthy recovery periods or even die from them.
Predictably, the kitchen is the site of most burn-related injuries, and scalds (burns from hot surfaces) are the most common type of injury. New York’s Weill-Cornell Medical Center advises seniors to maintain a three-foot “zone of safety” around hot surfaces while cooking. In addition to turning pan handles inward and using backburners wherever possible, this technique can minimize the chances of accidently touching a scalding surface.
Hot baths and showers are another common source of scalding injuries. Weill-Cornell suggests setting water heaters below 120 degrees Fahrenheit and testing water with a thermometer rather than hands or feet. Caustic bathroom chemicals can cause another kind of burn entirely. To avoid chemical burns, seniors should use rubber gloves when handling potentially harmful materials and take care to ensure caps and lids are always sealed tightly.
Limited mobility and greater injury risk make it all the more important for seniors to follow general fire safety best practices. These include:
- Installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home.
- Creating a fire escape plan and route.
- Keeping functioning fire extinguishers in the home.
- Conducting regular fire safety inspections.
While far from comprehensive, this list of precautions should help seniors reduce fire risks that might cause injury or damage to the home. Seniors who are hard of hearing will need to take additional measures and may consider installing strobe lights to warn of smoke or fire.
Remember, burns and falls are not mutually exclusive. They often go hand-in-hand and may result from the same mix of risk factors. Certain medications can make seniors more likely to injure themselves and certain conditions — particularly those which affect the sensation of touch — can make it difficult to assess the severity of a burn or fall-related injury.
Keep Yourself and Your Home Safe
The best way to avoid injuries is to ensure that you’re familiar with every possible risk factor in and around your home. From your eyesight to the style of shoe you wear, there are dozens of potential hazards you’ve probably never considered. It’s crucial to know both yourself and your home. Make note of activities or areas that might qualify as high-risk and, wherever possible, make proactive changes.
Work with your doctor and family to ensure that you’re managing risk factors you can control and doing everything possible to avoid the unexpected.