Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fear of Falling

This Blog entry is dear to my heart as the inspiration behind the whole concept is my 96-year-old Grandmother. My Grandmother has always been fiercely independent. Fearless and perhaps maybe a bit stubborn, she would take off at the slightest whim. A full tank of gas and a free weekend took her to the very southern tip of Texas once. 

She was a free spirit indeed until a simple fall resulted in, as for so many seniors, a broken hip. The long and painful recovery was more than frustrating for her. It altered her own perception of herself. The fear of falling shattered the free spirit that she once was. 

While physical therapy helped to strengthen her body she regained even more confidence from the occupational therapy. She learned new ways to bend and reach for things. She recovered well and was soon back living on her own. 

She has had quite a few set backs and with each one has had to regain that confidence again in taking those simple steps. 

"I'm so afraid of falling." she would say to me after stopping to catch her breath. 
"I just am afraid of what would happen." 

We have talked about this in great length. After so many "Grannie comebacks" she understands how powerful and even crippling the fear is. Her fear of falling has made her less active. The result of her inactivity has made her less mobile, in fact making her more prone to a fall. 

Like many people with older loved ones I pondered the idea of "falling well". I have read so many  interesting studies revolving around the aged and falling. I was thrilled to find that a study had been done to determine if "learning to fall well" would result in less injuries. 

The study seemed brilliant. The subjects were reasonably fit. Each would be taught balance techniques...they would work on proper gait...and then eventually learn how to effectively fall. 

(In my head I pictured senior centers with Wii Fit Boards, seniors doing yoga for balance and doing tuck and roll type maneuvers)

The result of the study however realized that the risk of injury during "practice" was greater than the benefit of learning to fall well. (Again in my head with the images of very fit seniors donning ninja style clothes and slightly discouraged by the results)

There have been enough studies that have proven the fact that fear of falling itself creates the inevitability of another fall. With each step that a senior takes without a proper gait they in fact have a posture more prone to loosing balance. 

My Grandmother today is in the middle of another "comeback" and had commented on that fear of falling again. She admits that a good deal of frustration for her is the fact that she had always been so independent. She doesn't like the feeling of being out of balance or fearful. She sees the consequence of being immobile and how it stiffens her up. 

She needs a nudge sometimes. Sometimes all she needs to hear is that she can do it. Many times something boosts her spirit so that the fear gets pushed to the side a bit. Her confidence bumps up a notch and off she goes. (The promise of a trip to Long John's or for ice cream really gets her moving!)

The human mind fascinates me and I can't seem to soak up enough about the mind's potential. 
How interesting it is to me that we all will have those very scary first steps. With each new stage of life there are so many steps and what would happen if we just stood still? 

My Grandmother reminded me today that she was with me for a very difficult first step in my life as I've been there for some of hers. Now she's planning her 97th birthday trip back home and I'm happier in life for having made that first step forward years ago. 

Don't let that fear of falling keep you from taking that first step. With one foot in front of the other you just don't know where it might lead you. 

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