Seniors and their caregivers know that aging in place comes with a set of hazards. Whether seniors live alone, with a partner, or with family members, safety is important. Homes that suit younger people or families are different from ones that provide safety for seniors. For example, many multigenerational homes feature one important innovation for creating more space: stairs. Yet for seniors, stairs pose a safety problem. Fortunately, technology can promote senior safety and independence as they age in place at home.
Seniors face the risk of falls every day. Of course, not every fall causes serious injury. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that only one out of every five falls carries with it broken bones or head injury.
Yet all falls have the potential to cause serious injury. In addition, once a senior does fall, regardless of the level of injury sustained, he or she is twice as likely to fall again. Clearly, increased numbers of falls raise the risk rates of injury.
Falls Threaten Senior Independence as well as Safety
Even if a senior does not break a hip or suffer a head injury from a fall, falls cause many trips to the doctor or emergency room. In addition, they can exacerbate existing injuries or conditions. The average teenager, living without chronic age-associated conditions, can easily handle a fall. Yet falling on the wrists when a person has severe arthritis can result in pain or breakage, making it hard to eat, brush teeth, or get dressed. Thus, falls threaten independence as well as senior safety. Knowing this, many seniors and their caregivers invest time and money in preventing falls.
Fall prevention takes many forms. Caregivers should check with their loved ones’ doctor(s) to identify any illnesses or conditions that might make falls more likely. For example, conditions that affect blanace include ear infections, nutritional deficiencies (such as the common vitamin D deficiency), or blood glucose imbalance (as in diabetes or hypoglycemia). Vision tests should also be done regularly to ensure that seniors can see obstacles in the pathways of their homes.
However, one of the best ways to prevent falls does not involve a doctor at all. Caregivers and seniors can prevent falls at home by simply clearing away clutter, keeping walkways clear and open, and illuminating the home properly.
Stairs Pose Particular Safety Problems for Seniors
Many seniors over the age of 65 are comfortable and confident walking up and down stairs. Yet this comfort lessens with age and can change rather suddenly. Stairs pose trouble for seniors with mobility challenges. Every stair poses a potential risk for a fall. Despite this, many seniors continue to live in homes with stairs, traversing them regularly or avoiding them (which makes home life less than optimal). There must be solutions, then, for seniors’ safety going up and down stairs, and technology has some.
AssiStep is a product line currently based in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Norway. AssiStep is designed to be installed on staircase railings on a sturdy side of a staircase (typically a wall). Different from other stair-assisting devices, such as motorized chairs, AssiStep allows for a greater degree of independence. Seniors who can still walk, but might need some assistance, might find this product especially suited to their needs.
Technology Contributes to Seniors’ Safety and Independence
Advertised as “a walker in the stairs,” AssiStep aids seniors with reduced mobility get up and down staircases on their own power but with steadying aid. The device does not touch the ground like a typical walker. It serves as a floating handle bar and support while the senior climbs the stairs. Because it is not motorized, a senior can simply grab hold of the handle bar and walk up the stairs at his or her own pace. When the senior pushes the AssiStep forward and then pauses, the device locks into place to provide a stable bar for the senior to pull him- or herself up on, a step or two at a time. Regular walkers make stairs more hazardous, but since AssiStep only provides a handle bar, it enhances safety as a senior grips it.
It is worth noting that the product is designed to foster senior independence. The website says the product allows users to “continue to climb stairs yourself,” rather than relying on someone else or a motorized chair.
AssiStep is neither electronic nor motorized, making it appear low-tech. Yet this device, designed by Norway’s best engineers, gives seniors the safety and independence needed to age in place successfully.
AssiStep. Home. Available at http://www.assistep.se/. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Important Facts about Falls. CDC.gov. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html. Retrieved October 29, 2016.