In April 2016 the health writer Jane Brody wrote a powerful essay in the New York Times Personal Health column, Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond. She described the importance of focusing, as we age, on a healthy life style and maintaining social relationships as well as adjusting to age-related physical changes that occur. Brody specifically noted that we need to make individual adjustments to reduce the risk of falls.
All-in-all, the article, mostly focused on women, but much also applicable to men, encouraged people to think in all sorts of ways about what they can do to stay as healthy and strong as possible as aging progresses.
I am still a distance from age 70, yet Brody’s New York Times article offered a wake-up call — reminding me to think about my own aging and any potential issues. I thought a lot about the things we have already done in our own house to prevent falling problems and considered what else we might do. And then, a few weeks later, I fell.
I was walking along with my husband on a gravel path on a university campus after dropping my grandson at school. A small depression — not quite a hole — caught my foot, twisted it, and down I went. I need to mention here that I was wearing the wrong shoes for a long walk (sandals), because that morning I had been in a rush and figured the wrong shoes couldn’t hurt just one time.
I heard the snap in my right foot, but otherwise I was fine. My husband helped me up, and I immediately realized that the snap meant something was seriously wrong. I’d heard people talk about hearing a snap when a bone breaks, and the snap sounded just like what they had described. I could not walk so I hopped, with my husband’s help, to the closest street, and then he ran the few blocks home to get the car. Did I mention that he was wearing appropriate shoes?
After a trip to urgent care and X-rays, I received my diagnosis — a fractured fifth metatarsal on my right foot — treatment plan — crutches and a boot for a few weeks, the boot alone for a few more, running shoes for a couple of more months, no five-mile walks — all during the summer months. And, the physician warned, people who fall like you did are at risk of falling again because their balance is off kilter for quite a while. Not me, I thought.
Not me, indeed. Exactly two months later, as I was beginning to think I could walk around the block and maybe even do one-mile, I fell in a big-city parking garage, this time spraining the other ankle and getting a huge abrasion on my knee. It was exactly what the doctor had said — I was walking from the elevator to the car, my right foot, the one recovering from the metatarsal fracture, overshot a low curb and could not help me regain my balance. Down I went again.
Note to Self: After a fall that results in an injury your balance is off kilter for quite a while. Slow exercise, balance exercises, and lots of stretching can correct potential problems, but it takes time. Over half of people over age 65 fall each year. According to the National Institutes of Health Senior Health Website, “Muscle weakness, especially in the legs, is one of the most important risk factors,” and after two months of not walking long distances, I certainly had muscle weakness in my legs. You can also read my post Seniors, Exercise, and Fall Prevention.
As an adult daughter, I’ve been part of a support team helping aging parents after falls. Often I’d remind myself how much precaution I take to prevent falls. When my husband’s mother did not want to use handrails, we installed them in our own bathrooms and made a bit deal about using them. We improved the railings on our staircases and taught ourselves to use them. I even wrote this post about it, Making Our Home Safer for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves.
Although I’ve discovered that you can’t plan for a fall, you can nevertheless do lots of things to prevent them. I believe that, if I had taken just a few more minutes to put on the right shoes for a long walk, my fall would not have been as consequential, and this brings me back to Jane Brody’s article. Part of thriving as we age involves not rushing, thinking carefully about what we do, and making the right decisions for each activity — for example, taking the time to wear the correct shoes for the walk.
Prevention for falls is easier said than done. I fell the first time when I was in my 40’s. After I recovered, I did not realize that (1) I had osteoporosis and (2) I had a defect in the other foot that shifted the work to the one that I broke. I was young enough that the doctor didn’t look enough for a cause. Fast forward over 10 years and I broke the foot again. This time I learned about the defect, the osteoporosis and most of all — this is a warning that it will keep happening if I don’t change the way I do things. I have given up shoes with no supports — even for my son’s wedding, I wore “practical shoes” and not heels. I have guard rails by my bathtub now. I try to be careful, but I know I rush too much and I could fall again. Now I have an emergency call button that I wear because I live alone. I haven’t fallen since I got that, but it does make me feel safer, and reminds me that anything can happen. Thanks for the column and warning. Just remember — you don’t have to be over 65 to fall!
Wise words. I am not over 65, so I know!
The link to the Jane Brody article is broken
Thanks! All fixed.