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


  1. Bob . . . I took your recommendation some time back, and bought a Carolina Hawthorn root walking stick from Whistle Creek. Loved it so much, I've since added a second Hawthorn, as well as a Sumac root and a Hickory Country stick). Love them all, and use them whenever I go out. They provide much stability and add to my confidence as I hobble around with a knee that's in need of a mechanical replacement. I've even gone to using one around the house. Unfortunately, I had a fall last night that had nothing to do with my knee. I was taking our four-month-old bichon puppy out, and forgot about the ice on the front steps. My left foot flew out in front of me, and I flew off the steps (three tall) hitting the sidewalk on my back. Puppy was unhurt, and, fortunately, nothing was broken, but my leg, back and my right arm that hit the bottom step are sore as the dickens! It was my first fall on the ice in about 30 years! Don't think my stick would've helped me in this case, but I should've held on to the guardrail! Anyhow, falls are no fun, and as we grow older, they seem to be lurking about in many places, waiting for us to "slip up."

  2. Oh man, Gary, all bets are off and not even a sturdy Hawthorn may save us from the ice! We were spared that here but some parts of the Carolinas were iced in. Very glad you didn't break anything. Allyne is making very slow progress -- home therapists now, graduating to out-patient therapy at a medical facility in a few weeks. Could take close to a year for full healing. This is a danger stalking we "mature" folks, for sure. About the same time Allyne fell, a good friend of hers in the DAR also had a fall and broke her back. I am a lot more conscious about this danger now than I used to be. Hope we all manage not to "slip up" again!

  3. Glad your bride is on the mend. So sorry it takes so long! Please give her our love!

  4. Sure will! Many thanks, Gary -- and be careful out there on your dawgwalks, ice or no ice!


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