I’ve blogged about falls in the past (Don’t Fall for This 1 & 2) but talked mostly about fall risk in the home. Last weekend Sharon and I were in Decatur, Georgia for a family wedding and the issue of falls once again came up.
We stayed at hotel about 5 blocks from Sharon’s sister (mother of the bride) and brother-in-law. Each day we would walk to their home for some family gathering both before and after the wedding. As it turned out, each walk was treacherous. The city of Decatur, lovely as it is with grand old homes and lovely shops and restaurants, had crumbling sidewalks. The stately trees that give the city its beauty were also pushing up the sidewalks and creating trip hazards. At one point while walking Sharon stubbed her toe when a section of the sidewalk was raised about one and half inches higher than the previous section. A painful face plant was barely averted.
With the economy just now recovering from the “great recession” it is no surprise that in city after city roads and sidewalks have deteriorated due to deferred maintenance. In Hillsboro, Oregon, another place we visit and walk often (two-year-old grandson in the area) we have also encountered uneven sidewalks. However, where one of these hazards has presented itself the city (or someone) has sprayed the trip area yellow. Better than doing nothing.
I have spent many years living and working in Asia and still go there on occasion (China last May and Vietnam last October). Sharon always worries that “something might happen.” Little did she realize that in most of these places the greatest danger tourists face is traffic (Ho Chi Minh City has thousands of motor scooters and drivers that pay no attention to pedestrians) and Jakarta, Indonesia has sidewalks with massive opens to sewers below. Walking in many foreign cities is probably the greatest risk most tourists will face and sometimes are totally unprepared for it.
Also, a word to the wise from a seasoned tourist. Take care of your feet before you leave. Trim your toenails so you don’t have problems away from home. Bring really good walking shoes that provide plenty of ankle support. I have a pair of leather dress loafers that are just too soft to provide good support. More than once I have caught myself walking on an uneven sidewalk or street and my foot has started to roll. This ankle roll situation is the cause of many serious and painful sprains and can result in ruining a great vacation.
Finally, around the house. Sharon and I have been developing a Fall-Risk, In-Home Safety and Accessibility assessment tool as part of our Age-Friendly Innovators non-profit mission. We go into people’s homes (at their invitation) and do a careful analysis of the fall risk potential of the residents (using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). When we complete the assessment we provide the homeowners with a report on things they should change immediately to reduce fall and safety risks (such as removing or anchoring scatter rugs and installing CO detectors). We also advise them on things they should change in the near future and things they would need to change if accessibility/mobility became issues. One example of a near term change is something we ourselves discovered. When we built our new “age-friendly” Lifelong Housing Certified home we installed raised flower and vegetable beds in the backyard. The landscaper put gravel under this section of the yard. We quickly discovered that the gravel and accompanying odd shaped tile pavers were difficult to walk on and were in fact a trip hazard. I spent a painful week removing the gravel and pavers and laying down about three inches of decomposed granite. Once the granite settled in it provided a lovely, firm, walking surface. The only person that misses the gravel is our dog Lucy who had learned that when she came to us with a rock in her mouth we would bribe her with a treat to get the rock.
Watch your step.