Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I've Fallen and -- oh, Wait, I CAN Get Up!

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in THE NEW YORKER called "The Way We Age Now" by Atul Gawande. It's not an easy read, not so much because THE NEW YORKER uses a lot of big words that aren't in my PlaySkool dictionary, but because it's about what happens to us when we get older, and who wants to think about that?

Well, no one, but after reading the article I decided that everyone, myself included, probably SHOULD.

Gawande, a doctor himself, talks about observing geriatrician Juergen Bludau examine an 85-year-old patient named Jean Gavrilles. After spending 40 minutes with her, and taking into consideration her numerous health complaints, Bludau concludes that

"The single most serious threat she faced was not the lung nodule or the back pain. It was falling. Each year, about three hundred and fifty thousand Americans fall and break a hip. Of those, forty per cent end up in a nursing home, and twenty per cent are never able to walk again. The three primary risk factors for falling are poor balance, taking more than four prescription medications, and muscle weakness. Elderly people without these risk factors have a twelve-per-cent chance of falling in a year. Those with all three risk factors have almost a hundred-per-cent chance."

Age 85 may be a long way off for you; it may not. Still, it's worth noting the statistics: if, later in life, your balance is poor, you take four or more prescription drugs, and your muscles are weak, it's almost certain that you will fall at least once over the course of a year. And keeping this patient from falling -- and therefore, keeping her happily out of assisted living -- is of more pressing concern to this highly-respected geriatrician than treating a possible cancer on her lung!

If only there were something we could do -- starting even this very moment -- that might lessen our chances of losing our strength and balance, and becoming dependent on multiple prescription drugs later in life. Heck, since I'm in the fantasy land of leprechauns and fairies, maybe this hypothetical activity might even feel good and cost us nothing. Maybe we could even do it with our friends and make it social! Maybe we could compete at it if we felt so inclined! Maybe it could also have proven mood-elevating properties, make us more inclined to eat well, and give us a greater sense of being in charge of our own lives and our own health!

What a dreamer I am, eh?


Mich said...

Yeah, what's with these flights of fancy? :-)

Seriously, thank you for posting that article. It amazes me that, even though the benefits of strength training for the elderly (and others) have been known since at least 1993, so many people prefer to be weak-by-choice.

Andrew said...

Right on, Mich. You can't stave off old age--but you certainly can take steps to make your older years as happy and healthy as possible. Some form of strength training is about the best way of doing that! Thanks for the comment.

mamacita chilena said...

I always tell my Grandma about the benefits and she ignores me...I'll have to send her the link.

FYI, I gave you a little shout out in my blog :) I don't have very many readers so I doubt that you'll be getting boatloads of new readers, but I really am grateful to you for answering my question!

Your loyal reader,