Ambulance company starts fall prevention program for seniors

Nov 27, 2012

An ambulance company in Onondaga County has started a program it hopes will help one of biggest causes of injury among the elderly.  The focus is on making senior's homes safe from falls.

Ninety-one year-old Gertrude Hoenig lives alone in her small  home in western Onondaga County.  She's become a familiar face to the EMT with WAVES Ambulance, who have been called to her house after she's fallen and not been able to get up.

"I fell one time in the kitchen, I slipped on a wet floor," said Hoenig. "One time I fell from the couch, because I slipped with my cushion from the couch  to under the table. One time I fell in the bathroom, because I had towels laying on the floor and with my walker I stepped over and I fell.  And then another time I fell from the bed."

Hoenig is not alone.  Thousands of adults over the age of 65 fall every year, one in three in upstate New York, according to statistics.  In New York state, these kinds of falls lead to more than 90,000 yearly visits to an emergency room, with a cost of  $92 million.  The price tag for subsequent hospitalizations is in the billions.  Falls are the number one cause of trauma related deaths in this age group. 

Credit Excellus

These falls are the most preventable kinds of accidents. That's why WAVES Ambulance has launched a Fall and Injury Prevention campaign.  Program coordinator Dan Taylor says the program has made changes at Hoenig's house to make it safer.  For example,  dealing with a cord from an electric chair that snaked across the floor.  

"I put down this strip, put neon duct tape to really highlight it, so it would be less of a trip hazard.  Taped the odd down here and bundled up the excess, so she doesn't have a trip hazard anymore," said Taylor.

In Hoenig's home, Taylor spies danger in the most benign looking things, like a threadbare carpet.  "The rug's worn, so this is actually covering holes in the carpet.  So we put stripping down and we use a pretty heavy duty duct tape to cover them," he said.
      
In the kitchen, Gertrude liked advice to rearrange dishes and cook wear on a more accessible shelf.  Her worst fall happened  in the bedroom, where a bloodstained carpet is a daily reminder of the dangers of a fall.

"I have the walker with me and I couldn't touch the walker and flipped, and my head hit this wooden stand," she said.

"The bathroom and bedroom, are the two biggest places we get called to," said Taylor.  "In the bedroom very often, it's getting in and out of bed, especially in the middle of the night, when someone gets up to go to the bathroom, whether it's a medical issue or whether it's dark and they trip and fall.  And then the bathroom between towels on the floor and a wet floor."

Taylor says the program involves home inspections, with providers identifying  hazards and conducting simple home improvements.  "A lot is about talking to them about how they use their homes, where they walk, when they get up at night are they turning on a  certain lamp or are they trying to find their way in the dark. So maybe we just install a simple night light on the walkway," said Taylor.

Taylor says most of the suggestions are common sense, noting a roll of brightly colored duct tape can solve many dangerous issues.

"This program is based on research I've gained from people like the Centers for Disease Control, so I'm not coming up with new ideas, I'm just compiling them and bringing them into peoples homes," he said.  "It would be very easy for people to do it at home."

Hoenig thinks it's a good idea. She admits she never thought too much about falling before now.

"When you are healthy and you never fell, you never think about this," she said. "You never think you will have an accident.  But accidents happen."

The program is free for residents of Camillus, Minoa and Manlius.

Anyone interested in enrolling themselves or a loved one in the program can contact Daniel Taylor at DTaylor@WAVESAmbulance.com.