Did you know that by 2020, the Census Bureau estimates 7 to 8 million people in the U.S. will be over the age of 85? What’s more, 214,000 will be older than 100 — that’s the good news.
The bad news is that falls are the leading cause of death from injuries among older persons and the death rate from falls continues to climb. (AARP, 2010)
Each year, one in three Americans age 65 and older fall and almost one-third of them need medical treatment as a result. On any given day, every 18 seconds, an older adult lands in the emergency room because of a fall. And nearly 23,000 deaths a year are linked to falls. (AARP 2010)
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of falling is to make your home “barrier-free” by providing step-free entryways. You’ll also want step-free interior doorways, wide hallways and bathrooms with enough space to accommodate wheelchairs, reachable switches and controls, and easy-to-use lever door and faucet handles.
The American Association of Retired People’s (AARP) website recommends the following 10 steps to make home a safer and more comfortable place:
(1) Install handrails on both sides of all steps (inside and outside)
(2) Secure all carpets and area rugs with double-sided tape
(3) Install easy-to-grasp handles for all drawers and cabinet doors
(4) Use brighter bulbs in all settings
(5) Install night-lights in all areas of night activity
(6) Add reflective, non-slip tape on all non-carpeted stairs
(7) Install lever handles for all doors
(8) Place a bench near entrances for setting down purchases and resting
(9) Install closet lights, as well as adjustable rods and shelves
(10) Install rocker light switches; consider illuminated ones in select areas
Believe it or not, according to an article by the **Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy,** the use of canes and walkers is linked to a higher risk of falls (online Jan. 15, 2015). Improper use of canes and walkers sends 47,000 older people to the emergency room each year. Do not borrow these devices; have a physical therapist custom-fit you for one, and teach you how to use it.
Pets are responsible for 21,000 older adults being treated for falls every year. Be sure not to let your dog or cat trip you. Try not to let your pet lie next to the bed or at the foot of your chair, and keep their toys off the middle of the floor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are many things older people can do to reduce their chances of falling and stay independent. They can:
(1) Exercise regularly. It is important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance, and that they get more challenging over time. Tai chi programs are especially good.
(2) Ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medicines — both prescription and over-the counter — to identify medicines that may cause side effects or interactions such as dizziness or drowsiness.
(3) Have their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update their eyeglasses to maximize their vision. Consider getting a pair with single vision distance lenses for some activities such as walking outside.
(4) Make their homes safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, adding railings on both sides of stairways, and improving the lighting in their homes.
(5) To lower their hip fracture risk, older adults can:
• Get adequate calcium and vitamin D — from food and/or from supplements.
• Do weight-bearing exercise.
• Get screened and, if needed, treated for osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, even if you exercise, eat properly, and install grab bars, there is still a chance that you might fall. The CDC website says that learning how to prevent falls not only helps people avoid injuries, but also helps them preserve their independence, their ability to walk to the store, visit friends, and navigate their own homes.
According to the experts, “Don’t fall, roll!” Obviously, it¹s best to prevent falls from happening in the first place, but if you do feel yourself going down, these tips will help:
(1) Catch your balance by taking a quick step or two.
(2) Look for something or someone to grab onto.
(3) Avoid falling on your hip if at all possible.
(4) Try to drop and roll out of the fall.
Finally, some seniors using walkers and/or canes may need to realize that their home no longer matches their needs and abilities. Studies indicate that half of all falls happen at home. If you live in a two-story home and there are several steps to climb just to get to your front door, you may want to start thinking about moving.
“But Judd, we don’t want to move. We plan to die in this house.” You might, especially if you tumble down those stairs. Wouldn’t you be much safer if you lived in a single-level home with easy access from your car to the door? Perhaps it’s time to move closer to family so they can visit and “check in” on you more often.
“But Judd, we can’t move. We’ve been here for over 50 years, we’d lose our Proposition 13 property tax — we can’t afford that.” Maybe not. Under Proposition 60, seniors age 55 or older are allowed to sell their existing home and buy a new home (of equal or lesser value) in the same county without being subject to a property tax increase.
“But Judd, we want to move closer to our daughter in Orange County, is that allowed?” You bet! Proposition 90 allows a senior to move from Los Angeles County to Orange County and take his or her old lower Proposition 13 assessed value to a new replacement residence.
“What about Ventura County?” Some popular California retirement communities have voted not to allow Proposition 90 tax relief. However, eight California counties currently participate in Prop 90 tax base transfers — Alameda, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Orange, El Dorado and Ventura.
This transfer is allowed only once in your lifetime and only one spouse must be age 55 or older. It is always important to consult with your lawyer or tax professional so that you will be able to transfer your tax base. You should also check with the appropriate county assessor’s offices before making the move.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.