A Bad Trip

Richard Connor

FALLING IS ONE of the scariest health risks that seniors face. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one in four seniors fall each year. The CDC estimates that over three million older people are treated in emergency rooms for falls annually, and more than 800,000 are admitted to hospital.

Most hospitalizations after a fall are to treat head or hip injuries. Falls also cause broken bones, especially in wrists, arms, ankles and hips. The fear of falling is known to cause seniors to limit their activities. My wife and I saw this firsthand with our parents.

Sadly, a fall often precipitates a downward health spiral in seniors, leading to hospitalization and death. No wonder so many seniors have an oversized fear of falling. The CDC groups the causes of falls into seven general categories:

  • Lower body weakness
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Difficulties with walking and balance
  • Tranquilizers, sedatives, antidepressants or over-the-counter medicines that affect balance and steadiness
  • Vision problems
  • Foot pain or poor footwear
  • Broken or uneven steps, throw rugs or clutter that leads to tripping

I took a tumble on July 3 while attending a family party. My issue was No. 6 on the above list—poor footwear. I rarely wear flip-flops, but I did on this day. The right flip-flop caught the edge of a concrete patio as I was carrying plates of grilled hotdogs and a bottle of barbecue sauce.

With both hands full, I couldn’t use them to break the fall. I hit my left upper shin on the sharp edge of a tile. It created a near-straight line cut. Initially, I was more embarrassed than hurt. To add to my humiliation, the barbecue sauce jar hit the ground and exploded, spreading sauce on the patio and splattering my clean white shirt.

Within about 20 minutes, my shin had swollen to the size of a baseball and started to hurt. Luckily, my wife is an experienced nurse. She had me sit down and elevate the leg. My sister-in-law supplied an ace bandage and an ice pack. This worked well and reduced the swelling by about 50%.

Everyone was nice to me. They served me dinner and some of the lovely cabernet sauvignon I’d brought to accompany the food.

The next day, my shin was swollen and sore, but I could walk without pain. Two weeks later, it was still somewhat swollen and the area was visibly bruised. Clearly, there was internal bleeding.

What can you do to prevent falls? The CDC developed the “stopping elderly accidents, deaths & injuries,” or STEADI, initiative to try to reduce falling among seniors. It offers educational material and tools for individuals, caregivers and health care professionals.

In my case, I believe continuing to improve my health and fitness is the key to living a happy and safe retirement. Proper footwear is doubly important to me. I have previously written about an arthritic joint on my left foot, at the base of the big toe. It has grown quite large, which makes finding shoes difficult.

A friend’s uncle once provided some sage advice: “Two things in life you should always buy quality—a bed and shoes—because, if you aren’t in one, you’re in the other.”

Wise words. Sadly, my flip-flop days may be numbered.

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