At Our Age, An Important Warning

Falling is a serious matter for us elders.
Photo by bennett tobias on Unsplash

The other day we met a woman in the elevator and we compared canes. I have a new one constructed to support my forearm and recommended it to her. She had a regular one but declared she never goes anywhere without it.

I commented that my main purpose in using a cane was to prevent falls, especially on snow and ice.

“I fell two years ago and ruptured my eye,” she said.

“I might get one for the other side to use around here in the winter,” I answered.

Obviously, the danger of falling is universal but much more so in our seventies and eighties. The medical assistants ask, “Have you fallen since your last visit?” Plus they remind us that “almost” falls count.

A couple of my falls were almost humorous had it not been for the red-flag dangers they represented. I was lucky they did not result in hitting my head or breaking any bones.

One of the most embarrassing was the time I came out of a convenience store and missed the step down at the curb. My Diet Pepsi went flying and I dirtied the knees of my pants. A couple of concerned people came right over to help me and I will always remember one of the guys asking, “You OK, pops?”

Another time, shortly after back surgery, I was sleeping in my recliner in the living room. When I came back from a bathroom visit, in semi-darkness, as I started to sit down, the chair swiveled causing me to fall right down between it and a bookcase. Since I was unable to get up, I used my cell phone to call my daughter upstairs. She jumped out of bed and came down to rescue me.

The other silly crash was when I tried standing on the scale and fell straight back. I sat down hard on my rear and thank goodness the foot of the mattress kept me from hitting my head. My wife tried to help me but I had to crawl to a chair before she could do it.

More consequential was the fall my stepfather had several years ago shortly before his death. He was pushing back from the dinner table and the chair caught on the rug causing him to fall straight back, banging his head on the floor.

Unfortunately, he was a stubborn but fearful guy and after refusing the logical medical intervention, risked a fatal accumulation of blood in his brain. He didn’t die but had symptoms similar to concussions for a long time.

His story is a good segue to some serious facts. A simple Google search with the phrase “falls in the elderly” reveals what a huge concern falls are when we reach our 70’s and 80’s. The Centers for Disease Control has a big list of factors that helps us consider the issue.

The very first item on that page caught my eye. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones. Plus, each year three million older people are treated in an emergency room for injuries from a fall.

This essay is not designed to frighten anyone but on the contrary, to make us conscious of a serious danger we can avoid. If it means getting a cane or two, then do it. I walk around looking down, which is counter-intuitive, but I don’t want to be surprised by strange bumps in my way.

Be ready next time the nurse at the clinic asks “Have you had any falls in the last ninety days?” The answer has to be a big “NO!”

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