My Own Fall Injury

Angela D. Mickalide, Ph.D., CHES, director of Education and Outreach for the Home Safety Council, told me Thursday that the latest data on falls involving older adults are found on this CDC page. And those data are scary.

Like it or not, I'm an older adult, age 55. My fall injury happened Feb. 14. Coincidentally, my father is recuperating in Florida right now from a more painful fall he took about a week earlier. You can see why fall safety is suddenly of great interest to me.

I'm bruised, and my left cheekbone is fractured, but it could have been much worse. I live in north Texas, where live oak trees are abundant. A large one stands in the middle of my back deck, its branches overhanging my house. I have stood on our roof many times trimming that tree's branches, year in and year out, without incident -- until Valentine's Day.

A heavy snowfall the previous Thursday had weighed down and broken four of the oak's branches. I climbed my 8-foot ladder and sawed off one of the broken limbs at its base, then moved onto the roof to cut another limb. I was standing at the roof's edge on an area clear of ice and snow, holding a smaller branch and sawing the large one, when I lost my balance and fell off the roof.

Only later did I notice the saw's handle had snapped from the impact, which my wife and two neighbors working in their own yards heard. I was soon transported by ambulance to a trauma center in Fort Worth for a CT scan and X-rays that revealed only the minor cheek fracture. Having learned on Tuesday that the surgery to repair it begins with an incision in the top of the skull, I plan to let it heal as is.

The CDC page says falls are the leading cause of injury deaths for older Americans and the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma. In 2005, 15,800 people at least 65 years old died from fall injuries and 1.8 million were treated in emergency departments, with more than 433,000 of those ED patients being hospitalized. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury. While men are more likely to die from a fall, women are more like to experience a non-fatal fall.

I'm the longtime editor of a safety magazine, someone who uses PPE when working around the house. I thought I was doing this job safely and carefully. What I learned is that I had failed to appreciate the risk of cutting a limb that required me to reach beyond my roof's edge, as well as the risk of standing on roof shingles still wet from the melted snow. I'm hiring a professional to finish this job.

Getting regular exercise probably helped me avoid more serious injuries. That is CDC's first piece of advice to help older adults cut their risk of falling:

  • Exercise regularly; exercise programs such as Tai Chi that increase strength and improve balance are especially good.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Have your vision checked at least once a year.
  • Improve the lighting in your home.
  • Reduce hazards at home that can lead to falls.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Feb 19, 2010