From falling over to having a fall: the language of falls in old age changes from an active verb to an ominous noun.
Children fall over laughing, fall off their bikes and fall out of trees. Often. They break their arms and legs and wrists and ankles but never, or almost never, their hips. And in the vast majority of cases those wounds healed quickly and well.
Young adults fall into debt, fall in with bad company, fall in and out of love, fall for a scam, fall out with friends, fall apart, fall from grace and fail to fall far from the tree. They fall over skiing or playing basketball or rugby or tennis. They fall over drunk, maybe. They fall off mountains and mountain bikes. Some, in the olden days, were labelled fallen women.
(They also visit the Huka Falls, Niagara Falls and Victoria Falls.)
Falling is usually a not-good thing, but at least the person concerned has done something to cause the fall. They are agents of their own fate.
From falling over to having a fall
Then when we reach a certain age, we don’t fall over any more.
We “have a fall.” As the language changes, the implications change. Falling is a normal, natural part of life and at least we learn from it. “Having a fall” is different. We’ve gone from a verb to a noun, from active to passive. The language signals that this is an event fraught with danger, bringing stress and fear. A crisis and an omen.
“Having a fall” implies that the person who fell is no longer responsible for this event. A fall is something they experience, something done to them — not something they do. It comes out of the blue, very often. It sometimes does seem like an act of God. A friend’s mother described her own fall in such a way: she didn’t trip, she didn’t slip, she didn’t twist her ankle, she didn’t lose her balance. No. One minute she was standing up normally, next minute she was on the ground. Her leg just gave way beneath her. It was not falling, but “a fall” that happened without any apparent cause.
I wish I dared to fall over at 82
I wish the distinction were not so black and white. At 82, I also wish that I could just fall over and get up again and again and again.
But I feel duty bound to be cautious. I don’t walk on a forest path in the dark. I touch handrails going up and down stairs. If a gale is gusting and I’m about to cross the street, I hold on to a lamp post until it’s over. Fact is, when vision and balance have changed — not for the better — I recognise the danger of falling is real. I’ve seen it happen to strong and healthy friends of mine.
They say that every year, 30%–60% of all people over 65 in New Zealand are likely to have a fall. So far I haven’t been one of them, except once when I was re-learning how to roller-skate. I was a bit tired and did a modest wee jump down a couple of steps. Result, broken wrist. I guess I was about 65 at the time, no idea.
How to prevent falls in old age
I don’t need to tell myself or you how to prevent falls in old age. Thousands of agencies do that, luckily. And we’re all doing what we can. At our community gym I do three different classes: Pilates, Pump, and Activate +. The emphasis differs between classes but they all help with strength, cardio and flexibility, and all the instructors include exercises in balance.
Every little bit of movement helps, and every old person I know is doing their best by doing what they like best. Walkers, hawkers, swimmers, spinners, dancers, lancers, skiers and tai chi-ers are all preventing falls in their own way. So are you when you’re standing on one leg while the kettle boils. Or squatting to play with a toddler. Or gardening. Or going downstairs for a piece of chocolate. Or getting rid of those high heels or that loose rug. Or simply paying attention.
I wonder what do you’re doing to minimise the risk of experiencing “a fall”? Because I know that if you’re over 65, you are doing something. And actively choosing to do something (instead of nothing) boosts our confidence and optimism about old age as well as our personal safety. Let us carry on being verbs, controlling what we can control. Yay for us, doing what we do!
Luckily, you can’t have a fall when you are already on the ground. Worth bearing in mind.Follow Write Into Life