Experiencing a fall in your 60s can be an early wake up call. It can alert you to acknowledge and address some of the changes your body is undergoing. Maybe your balance, hearing or vision has begun to decline, or overall physical strength has decreased. Cognitively, perhaps you have slowed; you find it more difficult to multitask, to do more than one thing at a time. A new medication might be increasing your risk of a fall. If you're faced with any of these issues, you should consult your doctor.
In my Fall Stop... MOVE STRONG™ program I see more and more participants in their 60s who are devoted to fall prevention who are determined to act on the changes they are experiencing in their bodies. They deserve a lot of credit. Being proactive is key. Hate to say it, but women really have it over men in this department. Women, particularly boomer women, aren't embarrassed to say, "I don't want what happened to my parents to happen to me. I'm going to do what I can to slow the aging process." And they are correct to think that they have more control over their fate than their parents ever imagined. To quote a boomer favorite, "The times they are a-changin'."
Often the first thing I hear from someone in their 60s who has experienced a fall is "It was an accident," or "I wasn't paying attention," or "It was a stupid mistake." I have found in many instances that these people, because they may not be aware of the physical and cognitive changes they are undergoing, suffer from what I would describe as a lack of mindfulness. More easily distracted, their ability to multitask diminished -- and unaware of these issues--they are fundamentally unprepared to prevent a fall. The task is to become conscious of the issues, and "put the mind in the feet."
Robin, an active, seemingly fit woman in her early 60s, came to class because she had experienced several falls. She said she was making stupid, silly mistakes: missing the last step on a staircase, stepping into a pothole on the street, tripping as she crossed the street while chatting with a friend. Fortunately, she hadn't suffered a serious injury. In all her accidents, we discovered a common factor: she was distracted and not paying enough attention. Ten years earlier she didn't need to consider being mindful of her movements. In class she began to take notice of her physicality, to stand tall. When she walked, she held in her abdominals. She attended to her walking pattern; she was mindful to strike with her heel and walk through to the toes, feeling each step as she walked. If she needed to walk and talk, she practiced keeping her head forward and remained focused.
Another class participant, Tom, mid-60s, loved walking his dog, but had become aware that his balance wasn't what it used to be. In fact, he felt as if his dog was walking him. He hadn't had a fall, but because of his osteoporosis, he was concerned that he was headed toward one, and feared the repercussions of a fall could be devastating. As with many people in the early stages of aging, Tom's joints and muscles had slowly started to weaken, and he found himself with less control of his body. Tom has worked hard to increase his balance and strength, and to pay attention to his posture and be conscious of every step. He also employs a couple new dog-walking techniques. He keeps the leash short and his dog close. When he needs to bend down, he opens his feet, one in front of the other, so if he loses his balance he won't topple over. Most importantly, he is now diligent about doing his exercises both in class and at home.
Today a good friend who just turned 60 emailed from Morocco, "I see how easy it is to break an arm or hip falling. I fell earlier but am fine. I really am careful but surprised I could even fall."
I'd like to offer a simple tip if while walking you need to use your cellphone, look in store windows, talk to a friend or look for something in your purse or wallet. Step out of the foot traffic, to the side of the sidewalk or against the building. Stop. Complete your task, and then continue. If you must talk to a friend while walking, tell your friend that to keep your focus, you will need to look forward.
Robin, Tom and many 60-somethings have learned that the business of walking is to stand tall, engage your core, walk heel toe heel toe and stay focused. Your 60s are a great time to start making each walk a mindful meditation. Pay attention to every step. Put your mind in your feet, and you will take safer steps for decades to come.