When wealthy socialite Ivana Trump died after an accidental fall in July 2022, it should have sounded loud warning bells for everyone. Even her riches could not protect her from joining the thousands of seniors who die each year from injuries caused by falling, which is the leading cause of death for people over 65, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While falls happen to rich and poor alike, family members can minimize the risk of falling and take steps to protect their elderly loved ones’ medical and legal interests in the event one does occur. The issue is a timely one this month, with Falls Prevention Awareness Week set for September 18-24.
Seniors and those who care for them should be aware of some grim statistics from the CDC:
- Falls among adults 65 and older caused over 34,000 deaths in 2019, making it the leading cause of death for that age group.
- One in five falls causes severe injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
- Each year, some 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
- More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.
Trump, the first wife of former President Donald Trump and mother to three of his five children, was 73 when she was found dead in her luxurious Manhattan townhouse, a lavishly decorated seven-story home on New York’s affluent Upper East Side. According to news reports, her body was found at the bottom of the stairs after a maintenance worker was called to unlock the door, which was double locked from the inside. Her personal assistant and a housecleaner had come to the home and grew alarmed when she did not answer the doorbell or their phone calls.
Reports quoted the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office declaring her death was an accident caused by “blunt impact injuries” to her torso. Trump had reportedly been suffering such severe hip pain that she could not walk without help, according to friends quoted in newspaper accounts of her unexpected death.
It is not known whether Trump might have been saved if she had been able to alert someone to her fall. Still, her story is an opportunity to offer several ways to reduce the chance of other seniors having a fatal fall:
- Keep the Home Neat and Uncluttered
- Be sure pathways are clear and wide enough to pass through easily
- Remove piles of objects or keep them stored, so they do not obstruct movement.
- Consider removing area rugs that create a tripping hazard.
- Install Proper Lighting – objects should be easily seen at night and in the daytime.
- Sunlight should not create glare that can interfere with vision.
- Install Safety Equipment
- Consider adding railings, pull-up bars and ramps.
- Use a Safety Alert Device that recognizes falls – there are many options available including neck pendants, smartwatches, or apps for smartphones.
Even with these precautions, a fall is still possible. Because of the chance that it may be incapacitating – traumatic brain injury, for instance – it is critical that you have a Health Care Surrogate document on file before accidents happen. This important legal document empowers a trusted friend or family member to make your healthcare decisions when you may not be able to make clear decisions yourself.
Every senior citizen in Florida should have one; the hospital will not release medical records or sometimes will not even speak to a family member unless they have this legal document. It is even more important if your senior family member lives in Florida, and you are in another state; many hospitals will not give any information over the phone.
The benefit of having this document, also called an Advance Healthcare Directive, is that the senior can control the details when they can make decisions rationally. They can choose the person who makes their healthcare decisions and calmly decide difficult questions like whether to be kept alive through artificial means.
Imagine if your elderly uncle is in a coma. He had been feuding with his brother, but the brother gets to make all the decisions because he is the next-of-kin. What if he is the last person your uncle would want in charge? But it is too late for you to step in now, even if your uncle had told you he wanted you to handle everything when the time came.
And do not worry about losing control completely. The document only becomes effective under the specific circumstances outlined in it. Control reverts to the senior after they recover.
From the day you were born, your parents and other seniors in your family have protected you and shielded you from harm. Now, as they approach their last days, you can soften their way out by ensuring they are as safe as possible, and their healthcare wishes are respected.
At OC Estate & Elder Law, we are authorities at protecting seniors in matters like this. Contact us at (954) 251-0332 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started with a free phone consultation. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.