My first fall happened in 2014 when I tripped on a slight ridge in the sidewalk, toppling to the ground in front of a few bystanders. I got to my feet and proceeded running (walking actually) my errands. Once home, I saw blood and grime on my face, as well as a huge shiner developing on my eye. My second fall occurred two years later, and I bore a bold shiner on my other eye. Six months later, I stumbled while strolling along level pavement. Not long after, I careened to the ground near the end of a trail walk. Need I describe falling backwards, twice, on the tennis court?
After each incident I felt humiliated, for sure, but also clumsy, miserable — and sore. I wanted to cry, yet instead I resorted to my default mode, putting on a brave face, downplaying the falls, even finding humour in them. The frequency of my mishaps, however, suggested something might be at play. Then our son quoted Alfred from Batman Begins: “Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Time for me to consult the Internet.
The first article in my google search comes from NIHSenior Health: “Falls don’t ‘just happen’ and people don’t fall because they get older. Often, more than one underlying cause or risk factor is involved in a fall.”
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS
- weakness in leg muscles
- diminished balance
- slower reflexes
- postural hypotension from dehydration or medication
- improper footwear
- poor vision
- side effects from medication
- general fatigue
Despite apparent causes, falling cannot be divorced from aging. Studies of adults age 65 and over reveal interesting results for us to bear in mind: between 25-33 percent (depending on the study) of older adults fall each year. Women fall more often than men. Outdoor falls occur among people under 75, which suggests they’re more active and mobile. Fatal fall rates increase exponentially with age for both genders, but men are more likely than women to experience fatal falls at any age.
Regular physical activity offers our first line of defence, and our program should include:
- resistance and weight training to increase strength
- balance and coordination exercises
- Tai Chi, yoga, dance or similar activities to improve flexibility and stretching
We must also address the causes in ways such as scheduling medical check-ups and eye examinations, monitoring blood pressure, wearing safe footwear and getting adequate rest.
Maintaining optimal hydration is essential for our body to function correctly, especially during exercise or in hot weather. Although I drink plenty of water, water alone is not usually sufficient. The water in our body also contains electrolytes, important minerals — sodium and potassium — that allow our body to carry out critical chemical reactions. Sports drinks contain these electrolytes that can help our body retain the water and restore fluid balance.
Eating foods high in electrolytes and water also aids hydration. Vegetables and fruits tend to have a high water content, and adding a little salt helps. One study found rehydrating with water and a meal is more effective than rehydrating with a sports drink alone.
As an additional observation: drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine contributes to increased urine production, making it more difficult for our body to retain fluids.
Walking on “automatic pilot” also factors into my falls. I walk so often for so long that I don’t pay attention to my feet or to the ground. In fact I’m seeking beauty or conceiving plans or summoning happy thoughts. But I need to be more present, to attend to the activity of walking.
I’ve heard many stories from friends about falling, so I chose to turn a negative into a positive and learn how to pick ourselves up. As ever, our challenge will be to convert useful information into appropriate action. •