Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The where's and whys of falls

We’ve been providing our free online home assessment for nearly 7 years now and about 500 people have taken it. I’m starting to look at some of the data for patterns—while it is not a scientific survey, we can still see some interesting things by looking at what people are experiencing.
One thing that we do is ask if they have fallen recently and if so, how often. We also ask them where they have fallen. I plugged these “where” responses into a word cloud—if you are not familiar with these, a word cloud simply counts the words and shows words that occur more commonly in a larger font size. The results are interesting and confirm much of what we know about falls:
  • First, 43% of people completing the assessment reported falling, and that 43% reported an average of 5 falls in the past year—underscoring that once falls begin they can become relatively common due to chronic issues like poor balance, dizziness, vision problems or strength issues like “weak knees" or medical issues like a drop in blood pressure or "low blood sugar”

  • Tripping over any variety of objects is another common issue—rugs, stools, garden hoses, even the family dog are all mentioned.
  • Stairs or steps stand out as a key item related to falls—interestingly, when looking at the actual comments it is clear that this is much more commonly related to a single or short set of steps than a long stairway. We spend a lot of time worrying about staircases between floors but it is those hidden steps like sunken living rooms or entrance steps that appear to be the bigger culprit in falls--many who don't feel safe navigate long stairs probably simple avoid them--we've had a number of clients who have only lived on the ground floor of their house and avoided the upstairs or basement.
  • It's no surprise that the bathroom comes out as the most common location for a fall followed by the bedroom—where people report falling getting out of or around the bed. Ensuring that we have adequate support around the bed and taking our time here is and important but often overlooked area for home mods--my own mother fell getting our of bed and broke her pelvis, starting her long spiral of decline.
  • The kitchen is also a common place to fall—often because we are leaning or bending over and lose balance. Better cabinet design and retrofit pull-out shelving can help.
  • Living rooms/Dens are also common mentions. Some of this may simply be becuase these are rooms where we spend time--reading, watching TV, visiting. Steps, tripping hazards, loss of balance are all mentioned--the only pattern appears to be that these are rooms where we spend time, and so are going to get their share of falls.
  • Falls are hardly limited to the interior of the home. Sidewalks and outdoor garden areas come up regularly (look for the words individually). Tripping over objects or uneven surfaces appears to be quite common—reinforcing the need to ensure that pathways are smooth and continuous.
I’ll be sharing more insights from our assessment tool over the coming months.