Q: My doctor suggested I use a walker and my kids are pressuring me to get one. I know it may be helpful, but I hate the idea of having to use one. Should I get the walker and feel old, or should I keep going without one and still feel like myself?
A: I hope there can be a middle ground solution where you can use the walker for safety and still feel like yourself! I know many people grapple with this thought and resist using needed safety devices such as walkers and canes because they do not want to feel or look older than they are. It may feel like a big step towards old age and your own vanity. Or, perhaps fear of aging is getting in the way of making the right decision.
Let’s take a minute to reframe what it means to use an assistive device. It is meant as a tool to help prevent injuries or accidents. It is truly meant to prevent you from a hospital stay because of a scary fall.
More than one in four older adults fall each year. In fact, one out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Once a serious fall occurs, your way of life may be changed forever. In this light, the use of a walker is meant to prevent this and help you maintain your independence and your current way of life.
Unfortunately, we often internalize the ageist expectations in society. The idea that aging is somehow a failure and if we just try hard enough or use enough products, we will elude aging altogether. This type of thinking usually only ends up hurting us and preventing us from accepting the changes we are experiencing physically. I urge you to examine your own feelings about aging and what that means to you.
About 36 million older adults fall each year, which results in more than 32,000 deaths. Your kids are no doubt pressuring you because they care about you and worry about what will happen if you fall. Falling is a serious concern as we age and ignoring the risks will only make them worse.
Having a fear of falling is not the goal, but having a healthy respect for the risks involved in a fall can help you take some actions to prevent them. Using a walker or other assistive device, if recommend by your doctor, is one of those steps. However, there is more you can do to increase your balance and strengthen yourself.
Ask your doctor about physical therapy or balance classes. There are evidenced based classes specifically meant to strengthen your balance and reduce your fall risk. You can learn more about them at www.vcaaa.org/our-services/fall-prevention or by calling the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging at 805-477-7343.
Make sure your home is free from fall and trip hazards. Reduce any clutter and ensure the pathways are clear. Add lighting at night and make sure you have a clear, lighted, and easy path to the restroom in the middle of the night. Examine your bathroom set up and install grab bars if needed.
Look at using a walker as a proactive step in your own safety and longevity. Talk to friends who may feel the same and share your feelings. Imagine you were giving your friend advice, ==What would you tell them? Make a choice based on what is best for you after considering all the reasoning behind using or not using the walker.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com