Get a house checkup to ensure your health

Some words are friendlier than others. For example "genuine" is a beckoning word, don't you think? "Beneficial" is, as well. One of the less-friendly words in our language is "audit." For some, it calls up the vision of an IRS representative knocking at the front door of your home.

I'd like to pose a different way of thinking about audits. It will always involve your front door, but it's genuinely beneficial — "age-friendly," if you will.

I'm referring to a home audit to thoroughly assess your living environment in order to identify health and safety issues. Ideally, it would be done by a trained observer who could offer possible solutions to any identified problems. But you could also do your own audit. The issues that surface in these in-the-home risk assessments, if not addressed and resolved, make it less likely you'll be able to "age-in-place" and live happily ever after in a home of your own.

Here are some possible questions. Is your house number clearly visible from the street so an emergency vehicle could find you if they needed to? Are your smoke and CO (carbon monoxide) detectors in working order? Do you even have a CO detector?

You may know that any bathroom rug needs to have slip-resistant backing to protect you from falls, but have you looked at the wear and tear on that gripper-backing lately? Maybe the grip no longer grips? Maybe it never did.

This in-home "risk assessment" is a type of health insurance — make that "assurance." Many of the questions in the audit, for instance, focus on preventing falls. New research indicates that even if a fall doesn't land you in the hospital with a fracture, you may end up in the hospital for other reasons (heart surgery, colon re-section), and falls are linked to more post-operative complications.

In a large sample of older adults (average age 74) who had one or more falls in the six months prior to surgery, a far greater percentage were found to have more post-operative complications (59 percent versus 25 percent in the colorectal group, and 39 percent compared with 15 percent in the heart surgery group). People with a fall history were more likely to be discharged to a rehab facility rather than to their home after leaving the hospital and had a higher rate of hospital readmission, according to an article in the October issue of the journal JAMA Surgery.

I hope this piece of information is an eye opener that will launch further examination of ways to "delay aging" through pre-operative risk assessments.

There are various home audit or risk assessment tools available. I'm working with nursing students from OHSU/Southern Oregon University this fall to identify the best possible audit tool and test it in a sample of homes. We want to promote an increase in "healthy life years." Sounds beckoning, don't you think?

One more point. Credible analysis suggests an increase in "healthy life years" is "estimated to have an economic benefit of $7.1 trillion dollars over the next five years." That's trillion with a "T."

I do not make this stuff up.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.


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