The purpose of this series discussing falls is to prevent any fall especially those that may cause hospitalization. Preventing falls is one of the most urgent and important actions you must take up. A fall can often lead to death or speed up the time to your ultimate end.
There are two sets of fall prevention exercises. One short-term, and other long-term. You must practice both short-term prevention and the long-term prevention.
Short-term fall prevention exercise:
When one gets older, the first physical deterioration that attacks you is balance impairment. Namely, a simple action such as standing still on one foot can no longer be performed for a long period of time, say, a few minutes. When I was younger, say up to 45 years old, I was able to stand on one foot, either left or right, for indefinite amount of time without thrashing around. Now I am not able to do so longer than, say, ten seconds. Even while standing up on one foot, I have to keep my other foot and my body actively moving to maintain the balance so that I don’t fall or putting the other foot down to stand up on two feet.
Funny thing about the field of American Medicine is that so far nobody has come up with quanitized measurement standard of balance impairment. If we could develop such a subjective scale of “pain scale” of one to ten, it should be relatively easy to develop the balance impairment scale of, say, one to ten, ten being the worst. While, searching for literature, I have decided that I should invent both the measurement device and the associated scale instead of looking for prior arts. So, I have invented the measuring device and the balance impairment scale, which I could call an International Balance Impairment Scale. This scale starts from one, the lowest number indicating the most capable balance ability. It ends up with the number ten, when the person cannot stand up with even both feet. I will tell you about the new invention in due course in the near future, but for now let’s continue on the discussion of near-term fall prevention.
As we age, (whether you like it or not), sensory faculties decline in all areas. The sensory performance abilities are vision, hearing, touch sense coming up from one’s feet, feeling of balance including acceleration, feeling of shake and sense of fast changing tilt or angle, air movement one feels around his or her face, etc.
The issues are that aging sensory organs develop significant reduction in sensitivity. Namely, they become dulled, and simultaneously their speeds slow down. Just think this example below:
You get up in the middle of night. You need to go to the bathroom which is about 20 feet away through a corridor. The room has no nightlight as your wife hates nightlight when she tries to get to sleep. You stand up from the bed, and immediately feel a faint balance impairment. But you feel the matter cannot wait, so you start to walk toward the bathroom through the darkness. The hallway is very familiar to you as you have walked it hundreds of times at night. You know where the light switch is, but due to your kind consideration for your wife, you wouldn’t turn the switch on. You say, “Yes, I can walk and get to the bathroom.” Suddenly you step on your pet dog’s toy, a hard-plastic bone, which had been left in the hallway by your lovely dog. Your foot gets caught by the bone, and you start tumbling forward.
This scenario is repeated hundreds and thousands of time every night in America, or for that matter in the world. You cannot get mad at your dog, or your wife. But you have been indeed lucky that you didn’t get hurt. Many times, that won’t be the case.
The remedy, or rather prevention, is as follows:
1. Persuade your wife or partner that you need a low-level night light at all times. I cannot see how they’d object to having a low-level night illumination. He/she would get accustomed to the light soon.
2. Get up and sit on the edge of your bed for 30 seconds by counting 1 to 30. During the counting, you could stretch or move your feet a bit to prepare for the walk to your bathroom.
3. Stand up and count again up to 30. You will feel your mental engine slowly begins to rev.
4. Wear either socks, sandals, slippers or shoes to protect your feet from unforeseen hard objects lying on the hallway.
5. Your vision gets sharper, and now you could see many items around you. You’ll see a few dog toys on the floor, too. Pick them up and put them in the place where they belong. (I am serious about the toys for pets. They are left where your pet lost interest, and that’s anywhere. You are the one who steps on or stumbles on. Dangerous! Many of these toys are made out of hard plastics, and they have sharp surfaces.
6) Roughly 100 million people in America are diabetic. (Surprise? Truth!) If you are either pre-diabetic or full diabetes, you must protect your feet very carefully. Any injury to your foot would take a long time to heal.
7) Now you are in the bathroom. Do your business and walk back to your bed. But, do not shut off the night light.
To be continued to Installment #4: the long term prevention.
This Companion to Aging column appears each week in the Seacoast Sunday features section. You can read earlier installments at www.seacoastonline.com. Please send your thoughts about aging to Sasano@umelink.com, Sam Asano, P.O. Box 26, New Castle, NH 03854 or (cell) 781-389-2356 or email Sam at email@example.com.