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Wisconsin ranks second in fall-related deaths, local programs aim to help elderly age safely

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin ranks second in the nation for fall-related deaths -- doubling the national average.

More and more seniors prefer to grow old in their home, but most houses and apartments are not designed for disabilities that can come with aging.

The good news -- there are lots of programs to make sure elderly can stay in their home as they age.

"One of the biggest problems that older people have is falling in their house," said Karl Fechner.

Fechner is already making plans to accommodate aging.

"My wife and I, we live in a big two-story house, and we're looking for a ranch home without stairs so that in the future we won't have to deal with that," said Fechner.

Mobility is always on his mind because Fechner is the Home Repair Director for Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County. The program helps seniors, veterans and residents who have accessibility challenges age-in-place while remaining safely and affordably in their own homes.

"I probably put in a couple of hundred grab bars for people in bathrooms and in doorways so they can navigate their home," said Fechner.

He also builds ramps for the program, and over the summer, his neighbor needed one.

"We called him on the phone and asked," said Shirley Voll.

Voll and her husband welcomed her father-in-law to their home after his wife passed.

"When we found that we were going to have my husband's dad living with us, we knew we were going to need a ramp. Grandpa is 91 years old, going up steps isn't so easy for him anymore," said Voll

Registered Nurse, Christina Bensche, lives near Madison and worked with a program called 'Safe at Home' to install rails on her front porch and in her bathroom.

"I wasn't planning to get old at age 67... I could have died when I fell down those stairs," said Bensche.

Within months, Bensche had two trips to the emergency room -- each time a fall. The first one broke her sacrum, a bone in her lower back and the other caused a concussion.

"If we can prevent those from happening in the first place we can keep people safe and independent, and living their life how they want to," said Sara Hanneman, program coordinator with "Safe at Home."

Bensche says she no longer has to ask for help from her neighbors.

Fechner asks you to take a page from his book -- start making modifications before it's too late.

"Medical expenses are so high and it can deplete a retirement fund in a very short time... I spoke to a gentleman today who slipped on a rock and fell. In a second it could change your life. Then what do you do?" said Fechner.

Modifications, like widening a doorway or installing a chair-life, can be thousands of dollars. Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County's program has no upfront fees and allows the recipient to pay over time with no interest. You can learn more about the Home Repair program on their website.

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