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Most people want to grow old at home

Where do you want to be living when you're 95 years old?

It's highly possible you'll live to that age — or older. For the record, 85-plus is the fastest growing demographic.

I'm absolutely positive most of us would not respond by saying, "When I get to my 90s, I'd like to live in a nursing home." Nursing homes are usually referred to — by the professionals involved in placing people there — as "skilled nursing facilities," and they're important in the continuum of care for aging adults. I'm glad we have them — appreciative also we don't have too many, because where people say they want to live when they are old and frail is "in my own home."

So how do you ensure that's what happens?

What often gets people sent to skilled nursing facilities is a fall. And it's a fall in your home or yard. That's where 75 percent of falls happen (www.seniorhealth.org). You slip on an unsecured scatter rug in the bathroom or lose your balance in the shower and there are no grab bars. You break a bone — the most challenging fracture is a hip. It lands you in the hospital for days, maybe even weeks, and then you're sent to a "rehab center" to recuperate. You soon figure out that the rehab center is actually a nursing home, and what you thought was a temporary stay turns out to be permanent placement.

The professionals in charge at that point — or the family members who have arrived on the scene — believe it would be unsafe or impossible for you to continue living in your own home, unless you can convince them you can safely return home and you promise to get rid of all those floppy, easy to-trip-on rugs, and your son-in-law says he'll put grab bars in the shower. And you both follow through.

But it happens again. This time, you fall getting out of bed to go to the bathroom because there's no light that tracks a path from bed to toilet. Or maybe you trip on a glossy-covered magazine lying beside your recliner. Maybe those new medications you received at the hospital coupled with the old medications you assumed you were to keep on taking make you dizzy and unsteady.

Experts agree that four of the following criteria put you at a high risk of falls. You are older than 85 and were recently discharged from the hospital. You take six to nine medications with more than 12 doses per day, and you have six or more chronic conditions or a history of depression or cancer.

A good insurance policy for staying at home is to assess your home environment to identify and change immediately all the things that put you at higher risk of falling.

On Wednesday, June 24, AARP Oregon, along with Oregon and Senior and Disability Services of Rogue Council of Governments, will present a free forum called "Staying at Home," featuring a variety of speakers about how to remain at home until the end of your days.

The workshop will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the Smullin Health Education Center, 2825 E. Barnett Road, in Medford.

I will speak about a newly developed fall-risk, in-home safety assessment tool. To register, call 1-877-926-8300 or see http://tinyurl.com/opkdkyb

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