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On Aging

Steps to Prevent Accidents in the Home


Question: My grandfather lives with my parents and had an accident at home over the holidays. While relatively minor and handled as a non-emergency by a visiting nurse, the accident (a gash on his head after slipping on a floor mat) caused guilt and anxiety for my mother. Is there anything we can do to help avoid accidents in the future?

Answer: If someone has heart disease or cancer, we view it as a twist of fate. However, if someone slips on the floor because a scatter rug should have been removed, we feel responsible and guilty. Accidents, particularly around the home, can be avoided by taking precautionary measures. Two practical things to do are to remove scatter rugs from the entire house and install grab bars in the bathrooms.

Accidents are the fourth-leading cause of death in the nation for all age groups. Older people have more than twice the rate of accidental death than the general population.

A recent study by the Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation identified 49 products and environmental factors considered most hazardous to the elderly. According to the findings, flooring materials are the most hazardous products, and the severity of the related injury increases with age. Stairs and steps were the second-most-hazardous area. Related safety ideas to consider include installing a rail for outside steps and an outside shelf to set packages on while you open the door. Products associated with the most severe injuries are those involving fire, including house fires, smoking products and clothing.

The 49 were also ranked by accident cost. Accidents involving stairs and steps are most costly, with flooring materials next, followed by foods, lawn mowers, ladders and bathtubs and showers. It is estimated that the total annual injury cost for just the 49 product areas examined was almost $2 billion.

Because of growing concern about safety both in and out of the home, the Veterans Administration in Sepulveda, Calif., and the UCLA/USC Long-Term Care Gerontology Center have put together an informative booklet on safety for older persons (available for $1.50 from Safety Tips, Geriatric Medicine, CHS, 10833 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles 90024).

Q: My 79-year-old grandfather recently sold his home and moved to a senior-citizens housing project. Many of the tenants spend their time gossiping and complaining. I'm afraid they're going to have a negative influence on Grandpa, who has always been active and seen things from the bright side. What do you think?

A: If he has not already done so, we think that in time your grandfather will find his place in the community. Your concerns about the influence of other residents is understandable. However, if your grandfather has maintained a positive outlook over the years, he more than likely will continue to do so and seek others with a similar perspective.

Your grandfather has undergone a major change in his life and will need time to adjust to a new living situation. It is important that you offer support by listening to his feelings about his new environment. If you live in the vicinity, visit him in his apartment as well as invite him to your home.

Since he is active, your grandfather may be interested in doing community volunteer work. Also, many housing projects have residents' councils and activities programs which can benefit from new members.

Other options for vibrant older people include travel and educational opportunities available through national and local senior-citizens groups and other organizations. He may want to contact a group such as the American Assn. of Retired Persons (1909 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20049) or the Gray Panthers (3700 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19104) for information on their programs.

Q: Recently my gums have become reddish in color and swollen, sometimes bleeding. A friend used to be a dental assistant, and she said I probably have gum disease. I'm not in pain, and am afraid that if I go to the dentist, he'll want to pull all my teeth. What should I do?

A: Schedule an appointment with your dentist or a local dentist-school clinic immediately. Your friend may be right about the presence of gum (periodontal) disease.

If untreated, periodontal disease will get worse, and pockets of infection will form between the teeth and gums. As the infection spreads, the gums recede. Eventually, the structures that hold the teeth in place are destroyed, the bone sockets enlarge and the teeth loosen and are lost. By not going to the dentist, you may be faced with the very problem of losing your teeth that you're trying to avoid.

Regular dental checkups are necessary for the early discovery of oral diseases, which often go unnoticed in their curable stages. Pain may not be an early symptom of disease. Ask your dentist about proper brushing and flossing techniques and fluoride treatments.

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