Stair accidents and how to avoid them and lessen their impact

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A good friend of mine bought and installed one of the stairway lifts you see on TV ads in his dad's house. His dad had serious hip problems that an artificial hip did not make better. So his dad had basically stopped going upstairs or downstairs. So his son bought the lift. Things actually went kind of OK for two years until just recently when the chair stopped midpoint and his dad got out to descend the stair manually. Well, that didn't work out so well because he ended up at the bottom of the stairs, pretty badly banged up from a relatively short fall.
So here's the question. Has anyone ever seen or even thought about designing a home-brewed "safe" stairway? I've been thinking about a collection of airbags (or one superlarge one) at the bottom of the stairs, triggered by some sort of detector circuit that could detect a human falling down the stairs faster than normal walking. You might still get banged up pretty badly, but the maximum damage, from what little I could find about the subject, seems to occur when you hit bottom.
I figure if my cheap little Mayflower GPS system can tell me "You're speeding" that detecting a mass falling down a stairway is entirely "doable." (-:
I assume this is going to be costly. However my friend assures me that this has already been a very costly spill for him (he's taken off work and flown out to take care of his dad while he recovers - and he feels kind of guilty for getting the stair lift to begin with).
I know that the leading cause of accidental death in the home environment is from stairway falls. If a $10K device saves a life (especially mine!) than I might be willing to pay that.
-- Bobby G.
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On Tue, 13 Sep 2011 14:00:37 -0400, "Robert Green"

Nothing to get up/down stairs is 100%. In the case of a your friend's dad, ramping under where the chair travels would have made it possible to slide down if the chair stopped. But if the staircase is narrow, that might not work for others using the staircase. Haven't seen these systems up close, and don't know about them. But the bottom line is staircases are meant for those who can use them. At a certain age or level of infirmity, the simple answer is no stairs. Ranch style house.
--Vic
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On 9/13/2011 2:00 PM, Robert Green wrote:

I'm thinking if you live alone, one of those "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" panic buttons is a good idea. Think they cost about $30/month and have the receiver on your phone line. In this case he could have sent for help when stranded in the lift.
All kinds of things could happen besides the situation you describe. If my father had had one, his stroke may not have put him in a nursing home as it went unnoticed for several hours and immediate treatment could have prevented his dementia. I know of someone else that used it when a burglar broke into their house.
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Ironically, he had one of those pendants but didn't use it when the lift failed because he didn't want the fire department coming and axing down his front door!!! Go figure. He's probably alive for having one because once he was crumpled up at the bottom of the stairs, he didn't care so much about the door (which turned out to be unlocked).
Sorry to hear about your dad. From what I know, he's not alone in having that happen. Plenty of stroke victims living alone aren't discovered until they are dead. Living alone gets to be dangerous as you get older. I've had some nasty spills, so did both my parents when they were still alive. My wife's first husband banged his head after falling off a ladder and was never the same afterward. His loss, my gain. (-:
-- Bobby G.
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On 9/13/2011 6:27 PM, Robert Green wrote:

Good grief! The gadget ideas are generous, but it is time to face it...the elderly gentleman should not have stairs navigate if he cannot do it safely! Either needs to have more suitable living arrangement or consider assisted living facility. If he is anything like elders I have known, he would fight it kicking and screaming....it is time to at least have the conversation, especially if there is no family close at hand. The argument, with elders I have known, is "I don't want to give up my independence", but they actually have a great deal more security and freedom in assisted living. I've known elders who, on their death bed, would not let their driver's license lapse; being that tough and ornery is probably, in part, why they lived very long lives :o)
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And spitting blood. He's made it clear he wants to die where is he. Repeatedly. And loudly!

Everyone in the family is in agreement - except for the subject of those talks. This is one of those very obstinate people. He only agreed to wear the pendant after spending several hours on the kitchen floor when his new artificial hip gave way. He's apparently got one of the hips that's been recalled but he has no interest in getting it replaced. He's 81 and his son says he's ready to die and he wants to do it at home, not in assisted living.

He did just give up his car (setting off a minor family feud) to his daughter but only after his insurers sent him a letter saying he had "much more than the typical amount of claims" (which set him off no end, so his son says).
I tend to agree that he should be restricted to one floor (now he is because he's so banged up). His son now feels that getting the lift was the wrong thing to do and that this event should have been predictable. The lift company says the chair stopped because the railing installation was not not properly done by a company approved vendor (it was not - it came used). I tend to agree because while some supports were attached to studs, others were anchored with plastic anchors according to what I've been told. But that's without seeing the actual installation or seeing any pictures. I just think anchoring something like that to wallboard at all is a bad idea. The installer has since gone bankrupt (this is out in Fresno, CA) so there's no recourse there. )-:
For me, this serves as a reminder that sometimes good intentions have a way of working out badly. The next thing planned is to keep him on floor one and to get a housekeeper to live on the deserted second floor. This is a guy who's lived alone for over 20 years. I'm guessing he will like the idea of a roommate as much as he likes assisted living.
-- Bobby G.
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On 9/13/2011 7:49 PM, Robert Green wrote: (snip)

I think most of us on the wrong side of 50 can relate, with grandparents or parents. The role reversal is hard on both sides of the table.
Is a first-floor remodel a viable solution? Convert part of first floor space to an elderly-friendly bedroom and attached special-needs bathroom? (rails, 'comfort height' w.c., phone mounted on wall accessible from floor level, etc.)
But yeah, one-story housing is the best solution. If the house is paid for, maybe renting it out would cover the cost of the other housing, and avoid some of the 'letting go' trauma.
--
aem sends...

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Hey, we're on the *better* side of 50. No one tells us what to do anymore. We have enough money to do what we want (worked hard, lived well under our means) but we're too afraid to spend it on the off chance we live to be 100 years old. Hey, it could happen. They could discover a pill for eternal life when I am 90 and I can spend eternity drooling in a walker. But all kidding aside, I agree. The role reversal causes lots of heartaches.

Before they got him the stair lift he was living 24 x 7 in a lounger in the living room. I think he was basically happy that way but it bothered his kids a lot, especially when they came to visit. So I think that his son really thought he was doing something nice but it just didn't work out that way. The only thing upstairs he really used was his computer. I suggested a long time ago that they just move it downstairs and hook it up to the huge LCD TV they bought him.

I get the feeling that he's just going to go back to living in the living room and foresaking the upper floor for visitors. I suspect, from what I am told, that dementia is starting to take hold because his son says he gets very angry when they suggest anything that's a change to his routine. It also runs in the family. His father told him of how he had to constantly wash up his demented, incontinent dad until age 88.
I know from my own father's descent into Alzheimer's that change really frightened and angered him. A housekeeper would be a great idea, but it's a non-starter. He expects his daughter (who has her own job, family and kids) to shop for him twice a week and isn't shy about complaining to her when she misses an item or buys the wrong flavor. He's been married twice so there are two sets of kids to deal with, too. The kids from the first family have talked about being "abandoned" for his newer family. It's a rough, rough situation.
I know he's been very generous to his kids, sending them on multi-thousand dollar vacations every year so his daughter (who lives near his house) does it without complaint (to him) but when I talk to her, she jokes about how hard it is to make him happy and that he would be better served by a housekeeper. I'm trying to stay on the sidelines, and as my wife often says that as a typical male, I propose engineering solutions to inherently social problems. Guilty as charged. She taught me a long time ago that women very often don't want solutions as much as they want discussion and acknowledgement of the things that are bothering them.
-- Bobby G.
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On 9/14/2011 5:47 AM, Robert Green wrote:

That's probably the stickiest part of the problem. There is nothing wrong with him living in his living room, sleeping in a lounger, if he is relatively comfortable, safe and clean. It would take some moxie, but daughter might just hire someone to come in one day - or couple of hours on weekdays - to fix meals (freeze some, etc.), clean, help with whatever. I've dealt with stubborn elders, but the most valuable tool was their trust - had one dear friend who passed at age 94. Her hubby died when she was 88, and for remaining years she lived at home with a live-in helper weekdays. Friend fell a couple of times, told me but not her son...tricky to deal with, and I did share one event that I swore him to not "know". Son would get rather excited and want her in a home, so that is why she didn't want him to know. He trusted me also, because he knew I'd tell him of anything he HAD to know. She had multiple serious health issues for many years, but sharp as a tack. Best of friends, as well.
If he can afford thousands for kids' vacations, he can probably afford some household help. If one kid sacrifices a vacation for his good, it might make a big difference.
The "we" and "they" between sets of children can be awful - have seen families fight over pain medication for terminal patients in hospital, and that ain't pretty.

balls and do what needs to be done.

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Recently, one of our church members came to us and asked if we had any living accommodations to rent, or knew of any. She was in a tight spot with the current economy. We have an older friend named Charlie. He lives alone in a two story house with a full basement. We introduced the two. Charlie needs help some times, and is on the verge of losing his driving license or killing someone. He's been alone for a long time. He's been wanting to move his sister out here, as she is infirm, and he wanted to care for her, but couldn't as he can barely take care of Charlie.
Cathy moved in a couple of months ago, and so far, they are doing fine. Cathy has a fine third floor home with a fantastic view and low rent. Charlie has a new cook that cooks all the things he likes, and is off frozen entrees and canned everything.
You never know how the arrangement will work out. Charlie is from Arkansas, and Cathy is from northern Louisiana, which is right next door. They even knew a couple of the same people back home. They both like to play cards, and like to watch football. She drives, and Charlie has commented on a lot of things he didn't see when driving the same road.
All you can do is hope for the best. It might turn out better than expected. He's now considering moving his sister out here, as they both would have help.
Steve
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An awful lot of people are. Our neighborhood has a fairly large number of "boomerang" children who have returned to the nest. Housing prices in the DC area have been relatively safe from the horrible drop in values seen in CA, AZ and FL. The downside is that lots of people can't afford the rents that are charged in the area. My poor neighbor who's almost 60 had TWO of her kids return (she raised three without a husband). She just broke her leg tripping over a toy left on the stairs by her grandson. We were talking outside the other day and she confided: "This was supposed to be MY time." The kids are depressed because they go on job interview after interview and never even get a callback.

Our local TV station set up a camera on the Beltway to film people in their cars - tapping on their Blackberries, applying make-up, doing the crossword puzzle, eating, drinking, futzing with CD players, GPS units and more. The rarity was actually someone with hands at ten and two, paying attention. But driving, especially for elderly people, represents freedom and they are very reluctant to give up their cars. My mom insisted on driving until a few months before she died, and she was legally blind in one eye! As she got older, her trips got shorter and shorter, though and she basically wouldn't drive on any road where the speed limit was over 30.

It's interesting because I think part of the problem is that my friend's dad's got enough money to do what he wants. If he was under financial pressure, he'd probably gravitate to a similar situation/solution. It may be forced on him if he does not recover well. He may now have to finally have his bad artificial hip yanked and replaced if the damage proves severe, and that's serious bedrest time. I figure if he gets used to home-cooked meals, laundry service and general assistance he might never want to let it go. His daughter is fortunate in having a flexible job so she can take off work to drive him to his endless medical appointments but that could always change but I can tell it stresses her out and she feels she's doing way more than the two sons who live in Southern Cal.

That's true symbiosis! From what I've read about seniors living alone, they'll both enjoy longer lifespans because they're not alone. Especially if someone has a fall or some other serious problem.

Sounds remarkably symbiotic. Sadly, one of the things that happens with old age, at least in some people, is they become paranoid and distrustful of strangers. I'll be sure to mention your experience to his son because they are really bent of shape by this most recent fall. I think that the relationship you describe would be ideal. He's got a really nice house, a modern kitchen and an empty garage since his insurance company politely suggested he should stop driving. There has to be someone who'd be willing to trade housekeeping for rents that typically run $2000 for a house and $500 for a room.

That sounds like a great solution. Sometimes, in adversity, a light shines through. This story shows that even beyond religion, churches serve an important social purpose.
Thanks for your input!
-- Bobby G.
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I am 62, and in reasonably good health for the shape I'm in. I am in better health than some people I know my own age and younger. Were I to have to buy another house, I would NEVER even look at one that had more than three steps on a stair. Sooner or later, you're going to do a half gainer.
Steve
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On 9/13/2011 6:27 PM, Robert Green wrote:

dying at age 88. Neighbor in apartment beneath his had heard him thumping the floor and called police. We figure he was without help for maybe 3 hours. Physically he recovered completely but his mind did not. The faster they can get to a stroke victim, 90% or so are due to blood clots, they can administer anticoagulants and stop the progressive brain damage.
Similar situation with a neighbor who was a pretty vigorous 70 year old but had a stroke and while he was living with wife, she was out all day. He was in rehab for 6 months and is now in a wheel chair.
I'm getting old too and figure I've fallen 6 times in last year. One on ice, I sprained my wrist and apparently chipped a bone that I did not know about. Found out after 2nd fall where I sprained my thumb and xray showed older break. Wife even got one on her flip cam while I was using snow thrower. She wanted me to put it on u-tube.
I always carry cell phone when I'm off the beaten path as the other three falls were in the woods where no one else was around.
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That's so tragic. And so unnecessary with today's technology.

I know strokes are in the family history and one is on the horizon for me if the other things wrong with me haven't done me in by then.

Dude, you need gyroscopic stabilizers! (-: Your story reminds me of the first time someone X-rayed Babe Ruth's hand. They found dozens of fractures that had never been reported. As I get older I find myself continuously re-evaluating what I can handle safely. As such, my world gets a little smaller and more limited each day.

I now wear cargo pants all the time and make sure that there's a prepaid but unactivated cell phone in my pocket (Fry's was selling them for $7 each at one point). Since the FCC mandates that emergency calls must be put through no matter what the billing status of the phone, I figure it's a small price to pay for having something that I can reach 911 with. I found out the hard way that once you activate them, they drain money way faster than battery power. )-; "Pay only for the calls you make" they say. Liars. The newer phones and batteries will go almost a year without needing a recharge if they're not turned on.
-- Bobby G.
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On 9/13/2011 8:30 PM, Robert Green wrote:

family plan. Prior to that, I'd just borrow hers. Older phone but works great and costs $99/year for about 600 minutes to keep active. Minutes roll over and I have enough to talk for 2 solid months 24/7.
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I've

Mary goes to visit her friend, Rhonda. Every time Rhonda's husband comes into the room, or she speaks to him, she calls him Honey, Sweetheart, Darling, or some other term of intimate endearment. Mary finally asks Rhonda how she and her husband keep the spark of romance so alive so and so apparent. Mary says, "It's not that. Most of the time I just can't remember the old bastard's name."
I had a two year recovery from a traumatic brain injury, and some things never got right.
Steve
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Reminds me a little of the Peter Sellers gag when someone sees him next to a little dog and asks: "Does your dog bite?" and he replies "no." Seconds later the dog latches on and the man screams "I thought you said he didn't bite?" "That's not my dog."

Wow. That's tough. Sorry to hear about it. Going through early stages of Alzheimer's myself and am encountering very weird things like the melding of memories and not being able to remember whether I did something or not. Fortunately the net's offered about a zillion coping strategies and some of them actually work. Not sure if I'll get to the point where Post-it notes, voice recorders, phone call logs, talking timers, talking pill boxes and a wife who can remember every bad word I've ever said don't help anymore. Today I found last quarter's estimated tax payments in a folder with stamped envelopes that I was sure I mailed and didn't.
Stuff like that really burns me because the truth has become fuzzy. I probably remember a previous mailing of the checks and it's leaking over into medium term memory. Next step is to wear a helmet cam that films me doing things I am likely to forget I've done. Unfortunately, most of the problems come from things I *haven't* done or thought I did.
I'm going to try to get on a new test protocol where they use an insulin nose spray to retard the progress of Alzheimer's (we call it Oldtimers disease around here). I'm hoping even if I don't get in, I can find an MD to prescribe it for diabetes and run a test myself. My wife thinks I am crazy to even try it but she's not the one that can forget the names of friends and family members on too many occasions. I *know* she would try it if somehow she starting gaining 10 pounds a month.
-- Bobby G.
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Have cash? Elevator.
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Robert Green wrote:

Did you have to marry her to get the ladder?
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On 9/13/2011 1:00 PM, Robert Green wrote:

It'd be cheaper and easier to outfit the fall-prone person with an airbag vest, like the ones made for motorcyclists and horseback riders:
http://www.bikebone.com/page/BBSC/CTGY/AT
Basically, it has a built-in airbag with cervical neck support. There's a lanyard running from the jacket or vest that the rider attaches to the saddle. A gentle pull won't deploy the airbag, but a sudden jerk will. When the person is thrown from the saddle, the airbag deploys and the person skids/tumbles on the bag.
In either scenario, the challenge is figuring out how to trigger the airbag when needed. Perhaps a built-in accelerometer. They use those in laptops, to detect sudden motion (suggesting it will fall to the ground). It tells the computer to temporarily shut down the hard drive to protect it from the imminent shock.
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