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50+: Live Better, Longer

Preventing Harm in Your Own House

Seniors are often one wrong step away from falling in their own homes. To reduce the chance of an accident, follow these tips.
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WebMD Feature

Rosemary Bakker still shudders when she reflects back upon the alarming phone calls she received, telling her that her mother had fallen and fractured her hip. She got two of those frightening calls in just a two-year period. Ultimately, they changed her life.

The first time that Rosemary's mother, Arlene, fell, she was 69 years old. Her feet had become tangled in an extension cord, and she tumbled to the floor. Then two years later, she slipped on a comforter that was draping off the bed. She lay helplessly on the floor with a refractured hip for at least three hours until she could slowly maneuver to a phone to call for help.

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"When we finally brought my mother home from the hospital, I noticed that the ordinary architectural details of her home -- the area carpets, the low-light levels, the door sills, the extension cords -- became barriers to her safety and independent functioning," recalls Rosemary. "Her home was a time bomb waiting to go off."

Rosemary, a certified interior designer, was so unsettled by her mother's predicament that she put her own life onto a different path.

Returning to college, she earned a graduate degree in gerontology. Today, she is director of an innovative program she founded called GEM (Gerontologic Environmental Modification) at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center's Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology. Her goal: Make homes safer and more livable for senior citizens.

Fear of Falling

With their slower reflexes, brittle bones, decreased muscle strength, and poorer vision, the elderly are often just an ill-advised step or an unexpected stumble away from disaster. Each year, more than 730,000 men and women over age 65 end up in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to the stairs, bathtub, carpeting, and furniture in their own homes. Falls are a particular concern and are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults. According to the CDC, about one in three adults 65 and older will fall this year, and as a result will end up in the hospital five times more frequently than for injuries from all other causes.

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