Older people are at greater risk of falling, and when that happens our ageing bodies are more likely to suffer more severe consequences. There is a lot being written about this from various perspectives. These include reasons for increased falls, ranging from domestic hazards to various physical conditions, and ways of preventing falls, ranging from fall-proofing homes to a variety of balance-improving exercises.
But in scanning the sorts of advices available I haven’t found the approach that is working for me, and so I’d like to share that here. I’m writing as a fortunately healthy 77-year-old, whose major physical condition is growing older and so, possibly slightly frailer. As such, I am not immune to falls, and those that I’ve had remind me of my childhood, with faded scars on my knees from an assortment of falls at that time. But now, if I fall, I know that I’m vulnerable to more serious fallouts than that, as demonstrated by my last fall, just before my 70th birthday.
Then, we were on a very pleasant coastal walk, and I didn’t notice an unevenness in the path, and tripped forward with full force along the length of my body, but with most of the damage in my right hand and wrist. The result – in addition to the immediate pain and shock, which were not inconsiderable – was a broken bone in the latter, and two fingers which still curl slightly differently from the others. As well as a smashed pair of spectacles.
Since then, I am happy to report, I haven’t had another fall. Doing regular balance exercises has helped. But I am sure that what has been equally important are some changes in the ways that I walk, and as I was walking the other day, a description for that popped into my head: that it is conscious walking. In two ways.
On the one hand, I became aware that – like many older people – I was not lifting my feet as much when walking. So, I was unconsciously moving towards what has somewhat cruelly been described as an elderly shuffle. And on the other, I was not looking at where I was walking, to spot potential hazards. While, after seven years, that big fall should by now be fading in my memory, it was unpleasant enough to keep reminding me that I really, really do not want to have another one like that.
So, I now consciously lift my feet slightly higher when walking; and while not obsessed, I do habitually give the pathways ahead of me a periodic scan to make sure that I circumnavigate or step over any small but potentially significant bumps in my way. And since those strategies have proved to be so good so far, I can recommend giving conscious walking a go.