Did You Fall? Wrong Question. How Fast Did You Get Back Up? Right Question.
The two German Shepherds leapt towards me with ears pricked forward. Help is on the way, I thought, briefly.
Then they went to work vacuuming up all the croutons, salad dressing and other goodies that I had just strewn out across the hallway floor.
So much for Rin Tin Tin. Or Bolt. Or any other Wonder Dog. Not when food is on the floor. You’re on your own, buddy, at least til I clean up all this aged cheddar.
I leapt back up and brushed myself off. I’d been carrying a big bowl of freshly-made salad to the living room. My friends had put a wire fence across the kitchen entrance to keep the new puppy and their older dog from fighting. As I lifted my right leg over the top, my shoelaces got caught in a hook designed for…well, designed for making an ass out of their house guest. Forward momentum took care of the rest.
It’s actually pretty entertaining. About the time you realize you’re going down and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it, your brain does some pretty funny things. All I could think was dammit. There goes my lunch. Good thing I have another salad in the WHAM.
Look. For anyone who still doesn’t believe in science, please see:
As a 66-year-old woman (well, close, I will be in three weeks’ time), when I visit a caregiver, they always ask me if, and how many times, I’ve fallen. The unfortunate assumption, thanks in large part to our bad habits, polypharmacy, OTC drugs and sedentary lifestyle, that people my age fall regularly. About one person over 65 dies every eleven minutes from a fall in America, and many more suffer debilitating injuries (https://www.shellpoint.org/blog/2012/08/13/10-shocking-statistics-about-elderly-falls/).
Falls often result in eventual death as a result of a broken hip or a head injury. This New Zealand article says it all- and please note, New Zealand is the only other country in the world which allows pharmaceuticals to be advertised on television, so they, like us, are experiencing the same dramatic statistics https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/106992937/overmedication-causing-falls-injuring-and-killing-elderly-study-finds. Three older women very close to me died of complications after a fall, two from a head injury, one from a broken hip.
Falls are now considered a normal, predictable, law conformable part of aging.
While you’re going to fall if you ride horses, skateboard, climb, ride bikes, or much of any other active sport — ask any of us who occasionally wear knee braces- they are by no means a natural part of aging. They may be part of an active life, and they happen at times when we’re not paying attention. But they are NOT normal when they are caused by bad habits and over- medication. That is a societal and health-care issue.
So while it’s not surprising that my healthcare providers ask, it does tickle me, though, because the fall isn’t the real question. We all fall. As an athlete who does very epic sports, I get thrown from horses, fall on rocks, did a header down a concrete stair case and much, much worse. Falling in my line of work IS normal.
However every single time I leap right back up. I got back up right away even when one horse threw me at the full gallop in Kazakhstan and broke my back in four places. I was standing with a circle of people around me doing yoga moves to see what hurt. It wasn’t until I got on the horse again that I realized I couldn’t turn sideways in either direction, and got back down.
Very, very slowly.
A year later I was riding again in preparation for Madagascar, where my horse, happily, was quite content to allow me to stay aboard at the gallop. Most folks would be crippled from such a fall. I was just annoyed that I couldn’t finish the trip with my group. However I did score a charter flight from Ust to Dubai, my own personal doctor, and one heck of a view out the window the whole way. I don’t recommend it, though, it’s hard to turn to look out the window with eight small pieces of spine floating merrily around your back.
But I digress.
Of course I fall. Usually it’s something stupid, not a drug-induced stupor. After climbing Mt. Kenya, the next morning I woke up in my ice-rimed tent, full of piss and vinegar. I could hear the guys having coffee in the mess tent. I leapt out of my tent and cut a tight corner, eager for my cuppa hot Joe.
And promptly got myself clotheslined by a tight, nearly-invisible guy wire holding down my tent fly.
I did a somersault, landed on my left shoulder, rolled right up and kept right on walking, laughing my butt off. My guides were in hysterics.
I would posit that the vast majority of those who fall in America, especially at what I consider to be the very young age of sixty and above, take a tumble because we have drugged ourselves into somnolence as a result of our lifestyles. We sit, we eat, we sit, we eat, we sit. Our bodies complain, we pop pills, we get ill from our food and lack of exercise, we hurt, we pop more pills.
For god’s sake, is it any wonder that we fall? In some old folks’ homes, people are given rafts of pills that, individually, are intended to treat a symptom, which was probably caused by another pill, which was prescribed to treat yet another symptom. Nobody is watching the farm, and so people fall. So many do that it’s normalized. That’s appalling. We expect our seniors to fall. Just as we expect our seniors to fail at life the moment they tumble past 59.
I beg to differ.
The only time I have fallen due to meds was the day after rotator cuff surgery this past May. I had been up all night in pure agony, and had taken the prescribed oxycodone. I do not take drugs, and that opiate hit me like a cast iron frying pan. I fell forward in my living room right into a bookcase. Concussion number twenty. I was alone, but crawled to the bathroom to clean up all the blood. I was fine. The meds promptly got sh*tcanned. I have no patience for anything that interferes with my cognitive processes, and I sure don’t need for a med to add misery to an already challenging situation. But that’s life for vast numbers of seniors. That’s normal.
My caregivers assume that if I fall then it’s due to age. That’s conventional wisdom. No. That’s conventional stupidity. That’s conventional prejudice and ageism. First of all, most don’t bother to ask about context. If I take a header, it’s usually because I’m willfully taking a chance. I work out to the point where when and if I do tumble, as with my grand jeté in the kitchen, the only thing I hurt is my pride. And, in this case, my lunch. I clean up the mess, return the fence to its upright position, and get another salad.
“Yes, I fell,” I can say to the nurse. But that’s not the question. How fast did I get back up?
When you and I work on our flexibility, our muscle strength, our balance, and keep ourselves in shape, the occasional trip and fall goes from a life-threatening accident to a funny story. It takes me half a second to leap to my feet, brush the cheese off for the dogs and go find a washcloth.
No harm, no foul. However, most folks my age don’t get back up at all.
Almost ten thousand seniors a year. Unbelievable.
Falling is NOT a natural part of aging. Falling is part of an active life, especially if you do the hare-brained things I love to do. I prepare for those contingencies with yoga, weights, and constant physical challenges. A flexible body absorbs impact like a microwaved Gumby doll. We are brittle when we don’t exercise, don’t stretch, and don’t strengthen. That’s a recipe for a broken hip or head injury.
Age has far less to do with falls than whether or not you and I are in shape.
This morning, I was at the gym at 6:30. There were a number of folks around my age, on treadmills, on machines, on free weights. These are the people who refuse to become statistics. If those folks take a tumble, they are likely to laugh it off, brush off the dust and keep right on going. This is what youthfulness looks like. It’s our ability to bounce back, to withstand the inevitable bangs and bruises of life. Our confidence is bolstered significantly when we’re strong, have good balance, and our body bends with the bumps. We don’t fear falling, which is a holy terror that locks many seniors in their easy chairs. That makes things even worse, for no exercise means weak leg muscles, lousy balance and no strength. Another fine prescription for falls. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That’s why, when my climbing team and I were on our way up Mt.Kenya this past November we all had a good laugh. As we made our careful way up the mountain, stepping from one rough rock to another to avoid the wet, mushy ground, we were surrounded by mist and rain for several days. Suddenly, the mist broke to reveal the peaks that we would be summitting the next day. I was studying my footing when Bosco, behind me, shouted “Look! Off to the right!!”
Of course I did. And promptly fell on my ass into the mush.
Thank God for Goretex.
My dignity, not so much.
I was up before Bosco could reach me, mud dripping off my sleeves and down my butt. The peaks were gorgeous. We all had a good chuckle. And then headed up the mountain.
No harm, no foul.
Falling isn’t the issue. It’s how fast — and whether — you can get right back up.