Our houses are our havens. They protect us from the elements and wild animals, they provide a place to raise our families and keep our belongings, and they offer a little relief from the maddening world. They are our sanctuaries.
But they can also be a menace. Not in the Stephen King or Edgar Allen Poe kind of way — they aren’t actively out to get us — but many an accident comes courtesy of the dynamics of the home.
The kitchen offers open flames and honed steel designed to cut through plants and flesh; utility rooms and broom closets provide an array of toxic cleaning chemicals worthy of a Superfund site; halls and stairways are prime tripping zones; and the garage provides auto and gardening chemicals and tools. The potential for danger lurks everywhere.
But it’s the bathroom that we need to worry about. Slips and falls are one of the leading causes of accidental death in the United States, and bathrooms are where these falls most commonly occur.
In 2008, more than 19,700 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries. For the senior set, falls are the leading cause of injury death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Falls are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
The CDC compiled a comprehensive report on the topic, and found that in 2008, about 234,000 people aged 15 and older went to emergency rooms courtesy of injuries occurring in bathrooms. In all, 14 percent of the people required hospitalization, and among adults aged 85 and older, 38 percent were hospitalized as a result of their injuries. Four out of five of these injuries were caused by falls, which can be especially treacherous for older adults.
Injuries in or around the tub or shower account for more than two-thirds of emergency room visits, which makes sense given wet floors and the resulting lack of traction. The most hazardous activities for all ages are bathing, showering and getting out of the bath or shower: 2.2 percent of injuries occur while getting into the tub or shower, but 9.8 percent occur while getting out.
With increased age comes increased injuries, but curiously, injuries around the tub or shower are most common among those ages 15 to 24 and least common among those older than 85. People over 85 suffer more than half of their injuries near the toilet.
“Injuries getting on and off the toilet are quite high in people 65 and older,” said Judy A. Stevens, an epidemiologist with the CDC and the lead author of the report. “Having grab bars by the toilet would be helpful for people in their older years, and everyone would benefit from having grab bars both inside the tub or shower and where you get in and out.”
Rather than become victims of our homes, the findings suggest that older adults and family members can be educated about specific dangers, which may result in reduced injuries. As well, the CDC notes that accidents might be reduced through environmental modifications, such as installing non-slip strips in the tub or shower and adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower to reduce falls, and installing grab bars next to the toilet for added support if needed.
Grab bars may not be pretty to look at, but a safer bathroom makes home more like the sanctuary we all seek.
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