Saturday, January 10, 2015

Walking Stick as a Codger-Catcher

Various reports tell us that more than one half of folks over age 65 suffer falls annually serious enough to be documented, while by age 80 that risk rises to more than one-half. The statistics on the impact on seniors' lives are grim. No kind of accident causes more deaths among old folks than a simple fall.

This is an unpleasant subject that sooner or later we of the graying set need to confront. Last month, about the time our family was starting Christmas preparations, the reality hit home when my dear wife Allyne slipped and fell hard in our foyer while I was away at a doctor's visit. She suffered a fractured shoulder that ultimately required surgical repair after a stint at a rehab center failed to produce any progress toward healing. She's now got me as a 24/7 nurse, with a physical therapist visiting three times a week to help her begin preliminary "pendulum swing" exercises. After another month, she may be able to begin regular out-patient PT to work toward restoring some functionality. It will be a long process. Full healing could take a year.

Of course, all of us in the family will need to pay close attention to helping Allyne avoid any future falls that could worsen her condition and make recovery even more difficult. One takeaway for me is that as the chief caregiver I need to be more conscious of preventing my own falls so that I can help her and keep our household running.

Honesty compels me to report that I did not make an auspicious start when I walked Sadie the Superdawg this afternoon. One foot got caught in an unseen tree root protruding through the woodsy pathway and I started on the way down. What saved me from hitting the turf was my sturdy Carolina Hawthorn Root walking stick, which took my shifting weight and kept me aright. I am now suggesting to my wife that when she does any rehab walking in the house (or outside) that she always use a walking cane in case she loses balance. It may well be that we need to buy one of those three-pronged medical models that we saw when she was in the hospital.

The Mayo Clinic is an excellent source of information on causes of falls and ways to prevent them. The use of canes or walkers is just one recommendation for assistive devices, along with hand rails, raised toilet seats with handrails, and grab-bars for showers. It also would be a good idea to consult with our physicians and/or pharmacists about the possibility some of our medicines may be increasing our fall risks. Moreover, some of us have inner-ear or eye problems that can contribute to unsteadiness. Clearing our houses of hazards is pretty much a matter of common sense, but you can google lists of suggestions at Mayo Clinic, Web-MD, or other sites and maybe pick up some new ideas.

By way of confession, I can remember four other all-out falls since entering my senior years. One was when I was walking a wooded path in Northern Virginia (where we lived just before my semi-retirement) and tripped over a stump much like today. I was face-down on the path in an instant but not hurt. Two others occurred a few blocks away from our current home when I was walking Sadie at night. In a spectacular fit of klutziness, I tripped over two curbs back to back, and went down, somehow catching myself enough to avoid injury. Finally, one hot day I was hurrying out the front door to walk Sadie and had just shoved a water bottle in my pocket when I tripped over the leash and fell. The only casualty was my cellphone, which was ruined by a soaking from water in the squished bottle.

Now that I am older and have vivid first-hand evidence of the serious harm that falls can inflict, I must be more vigilant for myself and my loved ones. My first resource will be to grip my walking stick more tightly and ask again, "Please don't fail me now."

                                               © Robert G. Holland  2015

Birthday Thoughts on Armistice Day;  Marching on From Armistice Day... (Updating Veterans Day, Armistice Day, birthday recoll...