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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Freaky Parts of Getting Older

My husband and I are very active and healthy. However, we both tend to be clumsy from time to time. I have broken a foot bowling (but I got a strike and applause) and a wrist slipping on ice. And don’t get me started on the skin I’ve scraped off while body surfing on pavement over the years.

A while back, my sweetie got a late start to walk the three miles to his doctor’s appointment, and was hurrying, his mind on the time and not on the high spots in our aging city sidewalks. Only a block from home,  he tripped and went down hard, slicing his forehead open on his safety glasses, and grotesquely dislocating his little finger. Back home he bled for a trip to the ER. After a lifetime spent in the Emergency Room, we were waiting for discharge when a sweet young thing came in and announced that she was from the Occupational Therapy Department and wanted us to participate in a study.

She explained that she would come into our home and help us make changes to increase our safety living there. She had been alerted by one of their Emergency Room red flags: patient over 65 who fell. I was both freaked out and tickled. My sweetie’s first smile of the day showed he also saw the humor in this situation. I tried to let her down gently. “That probably wouldn’t be a good use of your time. When we’re in St. Louis, we live in a four-story townhouse; when we’re not, we climb 14,000-ft mountains. At both places we have lots of steps, hardwood floors or carpet, no throw rugs, and lots of handrails.” Her face fell. Her quota for studies was not going to be met.

After she left and we shared a laugh, it gave me pause to think. It’s nice that people are on top of that, even if we don’t fit the profile. Many people our age do, especially if they have chronic disease and are more sedentary. A diabetic with neuropathy who has reduced feeling in his feet and hands is at great risk for falling, burning, and other accidents. Having a survey of the specific home situation and getting a good medical history could save his life. An ER visit is a good trigger, especially if he doesn’t visit the doctor on a regular basis. In retrospect, we should probably have gone ahead with the study. It would have increased her understanding that “old people” come in a wide range of health and capabilities. Next time, I really will consider it.