There I was, having such a fun summer swimming at the lake, traveling, seeing family and dear friends, and eating summer’s bounty. Then – oops – I had a paddleboarding accident and fractured four ribs. Ouch!
Accidents happen so suddenly. They aren’t planned, there is never a good time for them and they completely change things. Plans and outings are canceled; we lose whatever control we thought we had over our lives.
There are falls. One in three adults older than 65 experience at least one fall each year. They can cause minor lacerations to traumatic brain injuries. There are fractures from brittle bones that can be caused by something as simple as twisting while standing or picking something up. Bathroom accidents are common, and stairs can be a dangerous place. There is scalding, and fires with burns, choking and other food-related incidents, and of course, car accidents. Yikes!
Balance, eyesight and general physical abilities deteriorate as we age. When we have an accident, it can hurt us more than it does a younger person. If we are alone, it can be life-threatening. People age 75 or older are almost four times as likely to die in a home accident as people 65 to 75. Thus, the rise in sales of medical alert necklaces.
There are many things to do to try to prevent accidents: bathroom supports, smooth floors without rugs easily tripped on, shoes with no-slip soles and good lighting. Regular eye care and glasses, hearing aids and other medical devices all help.
The more difficult aspect, I’ve found, is the more psychological part of being injured. All of a sudden, my life changed drastically. I went from a very active, outdoor summer to inactivity and rest. I canceled trips, put my swim bag on hold, let the garden get out of hand and had to shift gears, big-time. This is very challenging for many of us.
When we lose something, we can often replace it with something else. This works, sometimes. Instead of working out, we can do gentle yoga or stretching. I found more time for music and cooking. And there are all kinds of projects and tasks I kept putting off; how great to use this time to get them done. Actively scheduling in these alternate activities helped me overcome the challenges of being hurt.
Pain was another factor. When we’re in pain, nothing feels good. It can cause negative emotions and even depression. It can lead to a sense of helplessness, anxiety and definitely a loss of activities. Pain affects sleep, memory, concentration and relationships.
“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional,” says a quote from a wise Buddhist teacher. If we can relax and accept it, we can avoid the suffering. Easier said than done. For me, pain drastically affected my energy level.
We also may need help, and as difficult as it is, it’s good for us to ask for it. Reaching out breaks down the barriers we may need to move through as we age. It’s also good for those who help, giving them a chance to feel needed. Having people help me get my garden tucked away for the winter and do some chores around the house was wonderful, but of course, I’d rather do it all myself. Good practice for me.
Feeling so useless from an accident is usually temporary, so “this too shall pass.” However, is this a sample of what it’s like to be older, and more incapacitated? What will my strategies be then? How will I arrange my house, my days, my life? All good things to think about.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life and written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.