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Advice to Seniors: Don’t Fall

“Everything is good with your blood-work,” my primary care physician tells me, as soon as I settle myself in the adjustable chair stool. “I am glad to see that your A1C is 6.1, even without medication.”

Can it get any better than this, I sigh in relief.

“Any further advice, doctor?”

“Just continue with what you are doing.”

The advice, coming from my new primary care physician who also happens to be a DO (doctor of osteopathy), elates me. My former primary care doctor retired last December and I am glad I found a DO this time. A DO has a more holistic approach to medicine. They focus more on prevention and on how the environment and lifestyle can impact a patient’s well being. What’s more, he supports my diabetes-free diet with no medication.

“Oh, there’s one thing I don’t want you to do.”

“What’s that, doctor?”

“Don’t fall.”

We shake hands laughing. Great advice. I’m sure many seniors will understand and never underestimate the importance of being careful not to slip or fall.

As I walk out of the doctor’s office I am reminded of that classic 1980’s Life Call/Life Alert pendant commercial where an elderly woman, after having fallen in the bathroom, presses the button:

“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Back then I found this commercial funny, especially after a train of stand-up parodies appeared on TV. Today, in my senior years, I find it anything but funny.

It stands to reason. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), falls are the major cause of fatalities among seniors. One of every four seniors suffers from fall-related injuries such as a fractured hip or a head trauma.

A 79-year-old family acquaintance Dolly (not her real name) passed away last year as a result of a bump from a fall that she did not tell anybody about.

Dolly, because of her blurred vision, may not have detected the extra step down the flight of stairs outside the house, so she slipped and fell on the pavement. None of her children knew of the incident if a neighbor had not asked the children how their mother was doing. At this point, Dolly was now complaining that she was not feeling well. A routine MRI showed brain injury. Dolly was operated on immediately, and unfortunately did not make it. Her friends and family were all planning a grand party to celebrate her coming 80th birthday. A single slip and fall spoiled it all. The lesson is, if you fall, tell your family.

Then there’s another family friend, Sally (not her real name). She bumped her head while taking a shower two days before she left for the US. She did not want to spoil her vacation, and besides, she thought it was just a minor bruise, so she did not have herself checked. She pushed through with her trip.

While in the US her bump and the pain did not subside. She decided that she would have it checked out when she’d get back to Manila, no hurry.

On her way back to the Philippines, she fainted in the restroom during her stopover flight in Hong Kong. She was rushed to a hospital in Hong Kong and never regained consciousness. The cause was her unattended head injury. Her daughter had to fetch her body in a foreign land and bring it back to the Philippines.

The list goes on. The point is, when in your senior years, tripping or slipping is a serious issue. There are two other people I know who lost their balance while decorating their Christmas trees on two separate occasions. Both survived but both had to undergo years of physical therapy.

Although slips and falls can happen anywhere outside our residences, statistics show that most slips and falls happen in our houses, especially in our bathrooms.

The bathroom is where we frequent daily. It is here, however, where we can never be too careful. Poor lighting or soap on wet floor can be deadly. I earnestly suggest handlebars in your bathroom. The extra investment could save your life.

I am writing this article in the hope that people (specially seniors) who read it will be more aware of their surroundings in whatever they are doing. What matter if we wear non-skid shoes or slippers, or walk deliberately slower. We can never be too cautious.

Many years ago, my father and I went hiking up the slopes of Mt. Tankongvaca. I had to ask him to stop a couple of times because I kept on slipping and falling due to the rough, slippery terrain. The third time we paused, he cut a branch from a nearby tree and gave it to me. He told me to use it as a cane. True enough, the cane helped me hike all the way to our destination without resting, without slipping, without falling. Today, when going on long walks I usually bring my trusty “cane” (i.e., my umbrella).

One of the saddest memories I remember was a picture of an ailing Johnny Weissmuller being led by a caregiver to a swimming pool to sit and wade in the water as therapy. This was the same Johnny Weissmuller, Olympic gold medalist, fastest swimmer in the world, and my favorite Tarzan character. But in his later years he fell and broke his hip at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, which led to declining health until his death due to a series of strokes and heart attacks.

Another was the news of one of my favorite “contrabida” actors Eddie Garcia, health buff and compleat gentleman, who at 90 years old tripped and fell while filming an action TV series, fracturing his neck which led to his untimely death.

And many other persons I admire which saddens me each time I think of it. Why die in good health? The golden years is that time of life after retirement to reap the fruits of our labors. A little mindfulness can go a long way. A sedentary lifestyle could weaken muscles and bones and affect our balance. Arthritis could weaken our knees and grip. Some medications could cause sedative side effects to make us trip on humps and clutter. And so on. Remember: always be careful (ABC).

Bodily decrepitude, wrote the poet Yeats, is wisdom. Although we look back to the years of our youth as the times of our life, the golden years are by far still the best of times for the mind and spirit. For although, like Tennyson’s aging Ulysses:

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, -- One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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