Can Aging and Physical Frailty Be Helped?

Aging and physical frailty in our society can be seen at every hand. Have you noticed a change in your aging parents or even a change in yourself? If not then possibly  you are not looking. Maybe you are not as bouncy, not as strong, reflexes slowing; balance a little off, etc. Possibly a little worry about falls or accidents lurks in your sub- conscious mind. If so you are normal and merely displaying common sense.

One of the most common injuries sustained in a fall is a hip fracture. In case one thinks this is no big deal consider this: The one-year mortality rate for surgical hip fracture in the elderly is a whopping 25% to 30%! None of us wants to play a round of Russian roulette with odds like that.

There are five main factors in falls in the elderly:

1. Environmental hazards

2. Unawareness of the danger

3. Medication side effects

4. Osteoporosis (softening of the bones)

5. Generalized physical frailty

First the obvious is addressed. Scour the living quarters for hazards and pitfalls and eliminate them. The bathroom is particularly dangerous especially the slippery surfaces. Protect these and provide handrails. Watch that the non-slip mat doesn’t become more slippery than the surface it is covering, this happens. Educate the individuals involved as to the possibility of fall and dangers and hazards. Review medication for possible side effects conducive to falls. Prevent and treat osteoporosis that makes the bones more likely to fracture.

Lastly we address the subject of this article, physical frailty. Is this decline an inevitable consequence of aging? Yes, it is. Can it be avoided? Well, not entirely but fortunately it can be slowed and minimized because a significant part of it is due to disuse! Any human faculty or ability, mental or physical, can be strengthened by training or repeated use. Conversely, any faculty can and is weakened by neglect and infrequent use.

The most effective way to optimize our physical abilities is a program of strengthening and toning the main muscle groups and other faculties including balance, coordination, reflexes, etc. Most people can walk so do this as steadily as possible for 30 to 45 minutes a day. Window-shopping won’t do it. This can be broken into two or three segments and still provide the benefits. (Incidentally, weight- bearing exercise also retards osteoporosis. Sorry, swimmers.) Those who can could substitute dancing, tennis, handball, shooting baskets or other similar activities. (My favorite for mature folks? Dancing!) These latter have the added benefit of further enhancing coordination, reflexes, balance, etc., due to their start-and-stop and direction- changing nature. Don’t forget, the benefit is proportional to the effort. (Check with your doctor first.)

Add some weight lifting for upper body strength as this is easily accomplished with dumbbells. This entire program should be on a daily basis, trying to average six days a week. With real commitment the serious frailty can be postponed well into old age and with attention to the other factors the risk of serious injury minimized. Yes, it is work and sometimes uncomfortable but what really good thing comes to us without paying full measure? (In the author’s case, double.) When you are in good shape (for your age) this is the benefit that is realized:You are less likely to slip or stumble.

If you do stumble you are less likely to fall.

If you do fall you are less likely to be hurt.

If you are hurt it is less likely to be serious.

If it is serious you will recover faster and your recovery will be more complete.

That’s a pretty nice benefit. In addition you feel more energetic, want to do more things and best of all, are able to do them!

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