FREE NEWSLETTER

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.

Browse Articles

Subscribe
Notify of
18 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
tshort
tshort
4 months ago

Core strength is an important component of balance. Due to a tendon injury that was causing me knee pain, my orthopedist gave me a series of core strength exercises to work on, some of which involved standing on one foot. I quickly realized how difficult this was, much to my surprise. An avid skier, hiker and bicyclist, I figured my core strength and balance were fine.

How wrong I was. The good news is that after a few weeks of doing a half dozen exercises for 30 minutes every other day my core strength improved and I could stand on one foot without any wobbling at all. That’s the test – no wobbles or shaking.

I used selected exercises from this source, recommended to me by my PT: https://uhs.princeton.edu/sites/uhs/files/documents/Pelvic-Stabilization-Hip-Strengthening.pdf

Olin
Olin
4 months ago

Rick, sorry about your flip-flop experience. Hope you were able to have a sip afterwards of Eagle Rare to help with the pain.

Being a little older than you and having the mindset of a 20 something, on Christmas evening I decided to try out my granddaughter’s hoverboard. After all, everyone made it look easy. First attempt was no problem. Second attempt gave me a broken wrist. What was I thinking!

Chazooo
Chazooo
4 months ago
Reply to  Olin

Many of us still enjoy being “young at heart”, sometimes to our physical detriment, but not to our psyches.

AmeliaRose
AmeliaRose
4 months ago

Many of my friends in their 60s and 70s have had bad falls this year. It’s as if we forgot how to walk on unfamiliar surfaces in our pandemic isolation.

Thomas Taylor
Thomas Taylor
4 months ago

I have no desire to try to keep up with the younger kids, but I have found that a gentle yoga routine that focuses on agility, balance, flexibility and strength (and peace of mind) has done wonders for me as I enter my early sixties. In addition to riding my bike and walking a round of golf each week, I’ll try to “extend the fight as long as I can”, as Jerry mentioned.

Martin McCue
Martin McCue
4 months ago

A recent best seller by Dr. Atul Gawande, titled Being Mortal, offers some sober assessments of things that affect length of life, and provides some useful advice about how to live an active and rewarding life as one ages. But, to me, the central message of that book was “Don’t fall down.” The slope of health decline seems to accelerate downward after that event, more than any other event in one’s life, because it constrains other healthy activities and fosters a more sedentary life.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
4 months ago

Rick, glad to know you’re on the mend. And I salute your goal of improved health and fitness—it pays such large dividends in so many different areas.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
4 months ago

Thanks for all the well wishes and suggestions. I remember that one leg standing was a regular exercise that PT recommended after I had my knee replaced. I plan to re-incorporate it into my routine.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

You can do it while you are brushing your teeth!

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
4 months ago

Thanks Richard. Your article is a good reminder to seniors about the risk of falling.

When my mother was 88 and in good health per her doctor, she was carrying a bag of groceries, tripped and fell down a bank. There were no serious obvious injuries other than some bruising. She was hospitalized for tests and then went to rehab. Over the next 10 months, her condition worsened and she was in rehab, assisted living and then skilled nursing Then she died. My BIL who flew medvac for 20 years suspected that she had internal injuries from the fall that never showed up on radiology tests.

One lesson learned from that is to be especially careful when carrying things in our arms. We are most vulnerable then.

One of my daily exercises is to stand on one foot for 30 seconds. That requires balance and strength. At 77, I feel like I am fighting father time. He is going to win eventually, but I am trying to extend the fight as long as I can.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Pinkard

Thanks Jerry – keep up the fight!

R Quinn
R Quinn
4 months ago

I can relate to what you say Richard – as much as I hate to admit it. Years ago I learned a trick to measure your health in this regard. Simply stand on one foot for 30 seconds. If you balance and coordination is okay, you should be able to do it with both feet.

A few months ago I tripped on a curb on the golf course and fell onto the grass. My iWatch beeped, said it looked like I took a fall and wanted to know if I wanted emergency services. Made me feel younger than that old lady yelling in the hallway😎

Chazooo
Chazooo
4 months ago

Oldtimers have no business wearing flipflops (especially with socks) 🙂 or high heels. Just not a good idea.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
4 months ago
Reply to  Chazooo

Not good for anyone ,including kids. If worn often, will lead to muscle imbalance in feet which can lead to all sorts of orthopedic problems. Very short term use at the beach, if at all.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
4 months ago

Thanks, Richard, for the focus on preventing falls, and for letting us know that you are on the mend.

I’m surprised that CDC’s doesn’t list “icy surfaces” as its own category, to highlight the importance of using caution in winter. Perhaps the CDC thinks that it falls under proper footwear — of having good ice creepers or cleats.

I often use hiking poles on trails, year round. They help with balance, distribute weight to the arms, and increase agility and confidence.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
4 months ago
Reply to  Jo Bo

You are very correct that icy surfaces are scary and dangerous. We live in a region where we occasionally get “black ice”, and I’ve slipped on it on numerous occasions.

My wife and I bought hiking poles last year on the recommendation of a friend who is a big hiker. I need to start using them!

Edmund Marsh
Edmund Marsh
4 months ago

Richard, a physical therapist that is accustomed to working with geriatric (sorry to use that word) patients can assess your risk of subsequent falls and help you develop a plan to prevent them.

David Powell
David Powell
4 months ago

Glad you’re still in one piece! At least you weren’t carrying the wine.

These are the first flip flops I’ve found with good arch support and a tight fit less likely to send me head over heels: https://archiesfootwear.com/. Good customer support too.

Free Newsletter

SHARE