When former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, 70, fell and injured his neck in January, it served as a reminder that falls can happen to anyone. Gates, who served from 2006 until 2011, fractured his first vertebrae after he fell at home. While expected to make a full recovery, he was lucky that he received prompt medical attention and that his injuries were not worse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 20 percent and 30 percent of seniors who fall suffer injuries that require treatment. Common injuries include cuts, fractures, broken hips, and head trauma. Like Gates, many of these falls occur at home — in fact, almost half of all falls happen in the house, according to a report by the World Health Organization. People are most likely to fall while they are in their bedroom, kitchen, or dining room.
The best way to prevent being injured in a fall is to prevent the fall in the first place. It can pay off to take a few simple steps to reduce your risk of falling and to fall-proof your home. You should:
- Discuss your fall risk with your doctor, and ask about steps you can take to reduce it.
- Remain active, and include balance activities in your workout.
- Wear shoes with rubber soles, even in the house.
- Keep your floors free of clutter. Keep stairs, halls, and pathways clear.
- Don’t walk in the dark. Always have a light on and watch your step.
- Fall-proof your home room-by-room. The National Safety Council publishes a checklist for fall-proofing that may help.
Being Prepared for a Fall
While most falls are preventable, accidents do happen. When you can’t avoid a fall, it’s important to be prepared. Learn the steps to get up safely in this tutorial from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In the event you are injured or cannot get up on your own, you may want to consider installing amedical alert system and wearing the device. This will give you peace of mind that you can call for help 24/7 if you do fall.
As we get older, our fall risk increases dramatically. As Gates’ injury shows, fall injuries can happen to anyone. By working to fall-proof your home and being prepared, you can greatly reduce your risk of injury.