The Single Biggest Enemy of the Elderly

Your retired day starts out like any other as you get out of bed and head to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. But what is a cup of java without the ever-informative morning paper. So you wander out the door to pick up the local tabloid. Unexpectedly, your foot slips on the porch step and you fall hard to the ground. As simple as that, gravity has raised its ugly head and your senior life may be changed forever.

The risk of hurting oneself upon falling increases with age as our reflexes slow and we are not able to protect ourselves as we so adeptly did when younger. Even if we can get our arm up to try to brace ourselves, bones are more brittle and senior citizens can end easily breaking a wrist or other bone in the arm.

Each year, hospitals see thousands of older patients for broken hips due to falling. And the outcome is even scarier: “Thirty percent of those age 80 and older who break a hip die within a year.”

And what a feeling of helplessness when a loved one ends up in a hospital bed and there is nothing you can do for them. You can spend time at the bedside, refill their water glass, talk small talk, but you cannot do that one thing they want more than anything else – you cannot get them out of that bed.

It’s a Battleground Out There

  • Navigating a flight of stairs can be an ordeal with diminished vision, poorly-lighted areas, and slippery surfaces. All it takes is one false step and the results can be catastrophic.
  • A step up to a kitchen floor or down to the backyard can be a problem if they are not easily noticeable. If an elderly person misses the step, they can quickly end up on the ground.
  • An ordinary walk around the block, a puddle with slippery water, and quickly the services of an ambulance are required.

It is a battleground out there. To give our self the best possible edge in this war against gravity, it is important to stay as active and physically fit as we can. Strength diminishes and balance is impaired as we age. We lose our mobility and our flexibility so we need to help our bodies out. A recent Nielsen’s Anywhere Anytime Media Measurement found that those 65+ watch an average of 210 hours of TV each month. An inactive retired life is a recipe for disaster so turn off the TV and get a move on.

Better Balance – Gentle stretching exercises like yoga and Tai Chi can help improve your overall balance and coordination as well as strength. Classes are offered at local schools or senior citizen activity centers. According to Happy Health Long Life, studies show the benefits of Yoga on improving bone strength, even helping to improve the effects of osteoporosis.

As you walk, be conscious of the steps you are taking. Be aware of the surface you are navigating and avoid slippery, irregular areas. Hang on to the hand of your spouse not only for security but for love! Do not over extend yourself and risk falling.

Improved Strength – lifting weights is one way to help maintain your strength and prevent muscle deterioration. And the idea is not to lift heavy weights but instead to fatigue the muscle. Lift lighter weights but do more reps. Not only will this help with coordination, but according to a recent study at McMaster University, this muscular fatigue can be more effective in building muscle mass. A small dumbbell tucked away in the living room can easily be put to good use while you read or talk or watch a movie. Resistance rubber bands can be anchored to a nearby door for a similar impromptu workout. You can even use your own body weight for simple things like sit ups, push-ups, and leg squats. The trick is to do something to improve your strength.

Easy does it – being a little cautious in all things as we get older is a good strategy. Walk a little slower, hold onto the hand rail, keep your arm around your spouse, make sure the lights are on when you walk into the room, and wear shoes that do not have slippery soles. When you stay at an unfamiliar house, bring a night light or two to help illuminate the bathroom and avoid running into furniture. Make use of the young, strong backs and legs of your children when it comes to picking up things from the floor. Pay a few dollars to have someone clean your rain gutters – you do not want to be up on a ladder. A little common sense goes a long way.

No senior citizen happily accepts diminishing capabilities but we cannot ignore them. Our awareness of how quickly a single misstep can cause big problems can play a major role in sustaining a healthy, happy retirement life. Be vigilant, take your time, lean on a friend, and watch where you go. Simple advice to help keep you out there enjoying life and out of that hospital bed.

Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to

7 thoughts on “The Single Biggest Enemy of the Elderly

  1. I can attest to the fact that yoga and tai chi really helps balance and adds strength to your bones, plus they help me stay flexible.

    Seeing my own father almost crippled from arthritis in his hips in his 80’s has kept me exercising faithfully. Even with a hip replacement, he just has no balance anymore.

    Balance is something you definitely have to practice in order not to lose. Just practice standing on one foot and then the other twice a day while you brush your teeth or you are standing in line at the supermarket. You really can notice a difference in time.

    • Thanks Joan. Another thing I sometimes do for the balance exercise is just stand – one leg or two – and close your eyes. Or do your stretching with your eyes closed. It is amazing how you quickly find yourself leaning this way or that.

  2. I can attest to the damage a fall can do to an elderly person. My Mom fell and broke her leg and ankle about 18 months ago. She has never been the same since. The breaks healed, but the loss of muscle and balance means her days are spent in a wheelchair or bed. She can’t even manage 10 feet without being worn out from the effort.

    She never exercised and never did any kind of stretching. Now it is too late, a lesson not lost on me or my wife.

  3. This is very important information. Keeping active and moving is a start but an organized discipline makes it even better.

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