Decades ago, I learned in physics class that objects fall at the rate of 32 feet per second per second, but I never imagined that might apply to me. What I've learned since, is that the time it takes to fall is unmeasurable. First you are upright, going about your business, and suddenly your body has landed on the ground. Do you see the world whiz by? Does your life flash before you? or is falling through space with the surprising impact all you experience?
Slipping, sliding, tripping, lurching, crumpling―lots of ways to begin a fall. Sprawling, skidding, crashing down―many ways to land. Some fall as a result of fainting or passing out, or as a result of a limb giving out. Others with clear minds, simply lose balance after meeting an unexpected impediment, or when they simply don't see irregularities in their path. Poor lighting, bi-focal lenses that distort, inattention to the path, simple fatigue, all combine to challenge our stability. Gather five older women in a car, and each has a tale of a memorable fall.
There I was, at a beautiful cocktail party, in a home with white marble floors and walls. The sunken living room, surrounded by several arched entryways, offered an artful step down from the raised tier. Drink in hand, I gazed at the distant sofa and stepped forward. All beneath me was white; no change of depth perceived. All at once, the glass left my hand; reflexively, my arms flew up toward a hands-first landing, and my eyeglasses pressed against my cheek as face met floor, body flat out. A stunning surprise.
A quick stop at the Library at dusk. On the way out, I chose the grassy route lined with large square cement pavers, as the most direct way to her car. There was no lightpost to illuminate what appeared as a smooth sloping grade. No way to detect the small drop-off between each paver. I stepped forward, large carrying bag and bulky purse on one arm. Then, as if off a diving board, I launched forward, stumbled and caught my balance, only to step again onto another small precipice that landed me on the ground, bags pressed beneath me. I witnessed the entire voyage vividly. My assessment, as I came to a halt upon the grass, was that I had bounced, landed on my bags, and was unhurt. I gave a silent, "thanks" to my trainer who rendered me so bounceable.
Months later, wary of curbs and small impediments, I exited the grocery store after depositing my recyclable plastic bags. I silently applauded myself as I assessed the red painted curb marking and carefully stepped down to street level. Darn bi-focals did me in again. At the curbside edge of the broad yellow speed bump before me, there was an undetectable gap. Down I stepped into that small abyss, losing balance, cursing to myself as I sprawled forward knee first, purse to ribs, right hand to pavement. Aggravating! A promise of rainbow bruises to come on that wrist and chest...purple-to-blue-to-green and then yellow. A pledge to use the flat curb cuts in the future.
My friends confide in me about falls they've had; almost fainting, tripping, missing the last stair, slipping in the tub. Some of these are well kept secrets, often with a tinge of worry. Could that fall be a portent, signaling the start of a decline? Each fall holds an unerasable place in memory.
Falls are a risk, especially for older women. Each year in the United States one in every three people age sixty-five and older, falls. Such falls are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries, and of hospital admissions for trauma in this age group, and they can also lead to death. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC 24/7: Saving Lives, Protecting People www.cdc.gov/Homeand RecreationSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html.]
Prevention is key, including safety features in the home, especially in the bathroom, and elimination of trippable rugs. Lighted passageways, updated eyeglasses, and use of railings and ramps all help.
To overrule the visual distortions caused by my bifocal lenses, I learned to peek through my distance lens to gauge steps and curbs. Then, amazingly, once I received my next pair of glasses, with an altered position of the bi-focal lenses, my falling ceased. It was a relief to realize there was a solution...this time.
Nonetheless, I learned first-hand how staying physically fit can really make all the difference between falling and not falling, or between falling badly and landing safely. Training to improve strength, endurance, balance, and core stability is indeed essential to enhance quick reflexive recovery from tripping and starting to fall. At home, in a gym, in classes, or Silver Sneakers programs, alone or with a group, exercise is key for avoiding or reducing injury.
Have you fallen? Please share your experiences.
70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade by Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole, is now available at Taosinstitute.net/70Candles and on Amazon.com in paperback and as a Kindle download