Seniors adjust to obstacles to keep safe at home

Lucy Riegel is recovering from a fall in her home.
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How safe are the seniors in your home?

The focus is often on the physical structures, but changing your mindset is part of the safety plan, too.

Lucy Riegel has gone up and down the front steps of her Butler-Tarkington home for more than 20 years. But last month, she stumbled and ended up on the ground.

"My femur broke at the upper end, straight across, plus a little piece shattered off," Riegel said.

She was wrestling with a stroller and her sandal got caught. She waited on the ground for 30 minutes, until her husband Bob returned home from the gym.

"It was totally unexpected, because she is very healthy," Bob said.

Lucy, 76, had to have surgery and then was discharged to Spring Mill Meadows for rehabilitation. Therapists there routinely work with fall patients.

"A lot of it is just losing their balance from turning too quickly. A lot of it is just when people are in a hurry and they are not watching what they are doing," says physical therapy assistant Brandi Girder.

Girder says for these patients the focus is on strength, balance, mobility and mindful movement like how to best navigate the stairs.

"When you have a bad leg when you are going up, it's good leg first, full on the tread, then the bad leg full on the tread. When you come down, you take the bad leg down first and then the good leg," Lucy said.

Once the Riegels got back home, they realized their 90-year-old banister wobbles. Bob collected the throw rugs and put them in a pile. He started looking at the floors with a new lens.

"You just become very aware of what you think are ordinary thresholds between rooms suddenly look like that mountains," Bob said.

They have handles in their bathroom, which is key for safety. But perhaps the biggest change is yet to come. It's back out front, in what the Riegel's now call "the scene of the crime."

"I am going to have a ramp put in from my front door all the way down to the street sidewalk," Lucy said.

It will mirror the ramp in back that, until the renovation wraps up, will get most of the traffic.

Fall prevention is key to senior health. Two-thirds of seniors who fall do so again within six months. The risk of falling increases with age and women fall more than men.

One-fourth of seniors who break a hip in a fall die within six months of the injury.

But more often, a fall leads to the loss of living independently.

"Safe at Home" is a work session organized by CICOA, scheduled for Saturday, September 21.

Related links
"Safe at Home" website
Information about adult falls