PUMPING IRONY: Falling From Grace

Falling geezers has become a public health issue, but I’m not sure zapping the soles of my feet is the answer.

fallen old man with walker
I’m OK. Just help me recharge that battery in my shoe.

I’m normally pretty light on my feet for an old guy, but I was reminded yesterday how easy it can be to take a tumble, break a leg, undergo surgery, endure a long and arduous recovery leading to physical therapy, a walker, and a new address in a nursing home.

OK, maybe I’m projecting. None of that actually transpired after I tripped on the loose sole of my bedroom slipper while climbing the basement stairs with an armful of lumber and tools. I came down on my wrist with a bit of a clatter, but with no ill effects (that I’ve been able to discern). I can chalk that up to my relative vim and vigor. A whole lot of other geezers are not so fortunate.

Boomers and Falling

More than 2.4 million Americans over the age of 65 were treated in emergency rooms for falls in 2012, according to a piece last week in the New York Times. It’s the leading injury-related cause of death here in Geezerville. And the numbers are increasing as we Boomers keep tacking on the years, so much so that it’s becoming a public health issue. The federal government is pushing nursing home administrators to better monitor their residents and install new policies and features that will help folks stay on their feet. Meanwhile, researchers at the National Institute on Aging and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute are working together on a five-year $30 million study on preventing falls among independent-living seniors,

Keeping us geezers vertical — whether we’re hanging out in a nursing home or living in the wild — is no small task. Even among those who have hit the ground walking and fractured something there is often a large dose of denial about whether it could happen again. It’s not that surprising, when you think about it: The longer you live, the more you rely upon past experience to guide your actions. And physical changes — loss of muscle mass, balance, vision acuity — sneak up on you only gradually. Why couldn’t I carry all that lumber and tools up the stairs? It’s never been a problem before. . . .

That’s part of the reason why I have trouble taking seriously technological solutions to what, in my opinion, are psychological (or physical) problems. I’m referring to a new study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation suggesting that geezers wouldn’t fall so much if we could just zap the soles of their feet with a little “imperceptible vibratory stimulation” whenever they put on their shoes.

The idea is that geezer feet can have trouble connecting with the geezer brain, leading to mechanical problems that lead to falls, Here’s how the study’s lead author, Lewis Lipsitz, MD, director of the Institute for Aging Research, puts it:

“Although loss of sensation in the feet is a common problem among elderly people that can impair balance and gait and result in falls, there are currently no interventions available that can reverse sensory impairments and prevent these dangerous consequences. We were very excited to discover that small amounts of vibratory noise applied to the soles of the feet may be able to do just that.”

I hope Lipsitz is right and millions of geezers will someday be gliding around in shoes that keep their feet so engaged with their brains that nursing homes will be holding ballet recitals. But I wonder whether any of my generation will actually ever admit that they need them.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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