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Area checked for risks to seniors walking

About 70 volunteers in red shirts fanned out Tuesday to 14 senior citizen centers and apartment complexes in the Buffalo area to document sidewalk cracks, high curbs and other risks posed to seniors walking near their homes.

Each team of volunteers planned to spend up to two hours at sites in Buffalo and its immediate suburbs to conduct "walkability" studies in and around areas that senior citizens frequent.

The project, coordinated by the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York, is dubbed "WNY Falls Prevention," an initiative to remove some of the structural hazards that pose a great potential for people falling.

"We want to identify and then resolve some of the key barriers that keep people from staying in their community throughout their lives," said Ann F. Monroe, president and chief executive officer of Community Health Foundation.

"Falls outside the home and fear of those falls keep people isolated and alone," she added. "Isolation is one of the main contributors to frailty and decline."

Each volunteer team planned to walk a few blocks around the apartment complexes, senior citizen centers and public buildings that seniors tend to frequent. Those teams then will document any hazards for seniors.

"They're looking to see if the area is conducive to walking," said Earl V. Wells III, president of E-3 Communications. "Are the curbs too high? Are the sidewalks posing tripping hazards? Does the light stay red long enough for an elderly person to cross the street?"

Volunteers will complete a checklist and prepare a report on the area that they are studying. The report will be presented to local government officials.

The walkability studies, developed by the AARP Public Policy Initiative, have been used in other regions to make their communities safer for seniors. Tuesday's effort is believed to be the first such initiative in the Buffalo area.

The areas being evaluated are places where seniors tend to congregate. But they also include at least one location, HSBC Arena, where someone complained about a hazard that led to an elderly person falling.

Participating in a news conference to announce Tuesday as Falls Prevention Awareness Day in Buffalo and Erie County were members of the Western New York Falls Prevention Consortium, the Community Health Foundation and several city and county officials.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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