Bonnie Burnett

Bonnie Burnett

Prevention begins at home

Reporter Cara Brady has a home safety assessment by volunteers with the Falls Prevention Program.

I have written about the Falls Prevention Program home safety assessment several times. It seems like such a good idea — two trained volunteers will do a free assessment of seniors’ homes to see if there are any safety hazards that could be corrected and reduce the chance of having a fall at home. Falls are the most frequent cause of seniors losing mobility and independence, often having to leave the homes they love. There is no way I ever want to leave my little, old cottage so I decided I could prepare in advance and let other people know that the assessment is an easy thing that anyone can do to help themselves.

I cleaned up all the pet fur and waited for the volunteers to come by. They will never do assessments without the permission of the home owner and it must be arranged in advance. People can refer themselves, sometimes at the suggestion of health care professionals, to the program and can have a family member or friend present at the assessment if they want.

Volunteers Kathy Betts, a retired nurse, and Bonnie Burnett, who has volunteered for many things for many years, came to see me.

“Everything we suggest to people is confidential and they can decide what to do about the things we take note of. No one is graded on anything,” Betts reassured me.

We all sat down at the kitchen table and they explained the process to me. It included some questions about any medications I might be taking that could make me dizzy and in more danger of a fall, and about falls I had had in the past year. This is for purposes of information for statistics only, to help with planning for falls prevention projects and no names are used.

“The North Okanagan Falls Prevention Program is free. It does not endorse or sell any projects, services or contractors. And we are not out to find fault with anybody. We are just here to help. No one is going to check up on you,” said Burnett.

They said that some of the more dangerous things they have seen are loose railings, uneven stairs, someone climbing on an unstable box to water hanging plants, and loose scatter rugs.

They set out, starting with the front entry way, which already failed by having a step that was not level and no container of sand, kitty litter or salt available for traction on ice, and no hand railing. Things were not looking good for home sweet home.

I hadn’t thought of those things before and it was useful to have an objective look at what I had simply got used to.

“This is like going back in time,” one of the volunteers said of my tiny abode which has a wood stove and no electronics in sight. I took that as a compliment because I like the vintage look.

Burnett and Betts were very professional and said that their main concern is safety and they will comment only on changes that might make a home easier to live in.

The bathroom was a main concern as it is the site of many home accidents. Their suggestion was for a non-slip mat in the tub and to consider grab bars for getting in and out of the tub, although I have never had the need for them. Accidents can happen in the kitchen too, with heavy items stored too high to be easily reached, not having a proper step ladder, inadequate lighting and floors not clear. My kitchen was safe. Funny that it turned out to be the safest room in the house and it is the one I never go into except to feed the pets. In the living room, electrical cords running where they can be tripped on are a concern in many homes. Since there I have no electrical appliances, this was not a problem for me.

They commented that the stairs should have another hand rail and the edges marked in contrasting colour. The bedroom should apparently have a safety pole next to the bed, and a nightlight. A good suggestion was to have a flashlight readily available if needed. The check was very thorough with even the pets, who could be tripped over, being noted.

The door mat by my front door is not secured and the volunteers didn’t miss that.

“I can’t tell you how many older ladies have caught a slipper on a scatter mat and slipped and had a bad fall,” Betts told me. “We hope we have brought to mind some things that could make your home a bit safer.”

We sat down again to discuss what they felt I could do to make my home safer. They leave a copy of the things they have noted and their suggestions. For my house, they thought the priorities were the stairs, the bathroom mat, uneven door sills and a bedroom nightlight.

I agree with their suggestions. I knew about some of them — those pets are a tripping hazard — and others I had not thought about and will try to correct. I may not need all of the safety modifications now but things can change, slowly or quickly, and it might be worthwhile to have another safety check in years to come.

I appreciated that the volunteers were so pleasant and generous with their observations, suggestions and time. They also left some reading material about falls prevention and general wellness for seniors. The Falls Prevention Program is for seniors but thinking about home safety could benefit everyone. I recommend it.

The program could use more volunteers. The volunteers don’t need to have any technical background of any kind, just be observant and want to help seniors live more safely. Surely this program has helped a number of people avoid the pain and consequences of a fall over the years.

For more information about the home safety assessment or the Falls Prevention Program, call 250-545-8572 or e-mail nofalls@socialplanning.ca.