I was enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon back on December 1st, 2019. I decided to get the Christmas decorations out of the storage space in the garage. The storage space is eight feet off the ground and I only have a six-foot stepladder. Can you see where the story is headed? I climbed the ladder and started getting the decorations down. Because the storage space is deep, you need to climb up into the storage space and pull the back items forward. When I was climbing back onto the ladder, I lost my balance and fell eight feet. When I was in mid-air, I remember thinking this is going to hurt. I landed on my left leg then fell into a table breaking several picture frames that we had just bought.
When I landed on the concrete floor, my leg was on fire from the knee down. I completed a little triage to see if any broken bones were sticking out or if there was any blood on the floor. Finding none, I moved my toes and my foot without any pain, so I thought I just jammed my knee. I stood up and tried to put weight on the leg and fell over again. That is when I remembered that I was home alone. The situation was starting to become clearer as the pain in my leg only got stronger. I realized I was on the cold concrete floor surrounded by broken glass, on the opposite side of the house, and two floors up was my cell phone. How was I going to get help? Then I remembered my Apple Watch. My wife got it for me just a few weeks before. I tried to use the watch to call my daughter and son-in-law. I tried three times before it connected and completed the call to my daughter.
Looking around I realized I was unprepared for this type of accident. I never considered a fall or how I could be hurt at home, alone. I realized I was more prepared for my passing than dealing with an unintended injury. According to the CDC, there are 36,338 deaths due to falls each year. Statistically, I am safer playing softball than I am in my own house. Unintentional injury is the third leading cause of death for my age group. I was surprised to learn that in 2017, 14,126 people visited emergency rooms for Christmas related injuries. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, ladders are the number one cause of injuries at Christmas.
The outcome of my fall was a torn MCL, ACL, and meniscus. I started physical therapy right after surgery in February and have been attending twice a week since. I have been working to regain the functional use of my leg. This has given me time to review my short-sightedness. As a planner, I am focused on how best to plan for retirement or make sure estates are planned according to client wishes as well as considering tax consequences. For example, is your Power of Attorney (POA) in order and does the POA know where your important papers are? Does the Living Will have your resuscitation instructions? These items, along with disability insurance, life insurance or long-term care insurance, are items I help my clients think through. What I was not considering was the need for a safety plan in place to make sure the unintentional accident does not become the unintentional death.
For those who live independently or spend part of their week alone, you need to consider creating a safety plan that covers three major areas.
- Communication: Work out in advance a fixed communication time. Decide who will check in on you when you are home alone. I once was told by an elderly widow that she had an “I am alive call” each morning with a dear friend. They were both widows and would call each other every morning to let the other know they were still alive. It might sound a little silly, but it gave each of them the confidence to live alone. There are a variety of products on the market these days that can complete a call when you have fallen and cannot get up.
- Physical Check in: When you cannot get a hold of the person, who will stop by? Even if you can contact the person, it is still a good idea to have someone drop by every so often, especially on older individuals living independently.
- Living space: Is the home suited for independent living? Did you know the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house? Over 40,000 people die on toilet-related injuries each year. That does not include slips and falls in the bathtub or shower. Installing safety features in a bathroom is important for independent living. Another concern is tripping hazards in the home and adequate lighting. There are several things to consider for those living independently, or those like me who may spend short periods alone. I have included linked resources below that can help guide through these questions to help you create your safety plan.
Unintended events are part of life. As a financial planner, I help people develop contingency plans, make sure they have appropriate insurance policies and provide binders to organize all of their important information, so it is readily available and in one place. However, sitting on the cold concrete floor on that December evening, I realized the importance of a safety plan.