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Lipovenko: Fractures and falls: the F-word of the boomer generation

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“So, what happened to you?”

In a hospital’s orthopedic clinic, limbs may be immobilized but not the curiosity of the walking injured.

Strangers strike up conversations over the misstep that landed us here, faces registering disbelief that a stair or sidewalk could literally take us down. Individual stories differ, but in the telling we relive the moment of impact.

How often has that scene played in my mind’s eye, only I’m re-imagining the past to avoid the throw rug that tripped me, ending in a body slam to the floor and a broken kneecap.

As the pragmatic ER doc put it when the X-ray’s verdict was in: from several possible outcomes, this was the best. Throw in mazel at avoiding surgery, and my gratitude to medical staff and the Almighty danced me out the door on one foot.

But weeks later, the blame game kept messing with my head: why didn’t I grab a banister to break the fall? (Because spills don’t happen in slow motion; you’re on the ground faster than a Nasdaq flash crash.) 

Why wasn’t I watching where I was going? (Who watches their feet in their own house?)

And my favourite, the “if only” mantra: had I stayed in the kitchen cooking for Shabbos, and not gone upstairs to glance at news headlines, might I have averted becoming another F-word statistic?

Because that’s what I am now, a statistic on falls and fractures, useful to researchers who keep tabs on such demographic trends.

These are the F-words of a boomer generation newly conversant on patellas, femurs and their range of motion, as injuries heal in Zimmer bandages and walking boots suitable for an astronaut.

Speaking of astronauts, the last time I needed help tying my shoes, Sputnik was on the launch pad, Hollywood released The Ten Commandments and Eisenhower was still president.

As a memorable cigarette advertiser reminded women it was courting: “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Indeed. From ballet at six to balance classes at 66. Not what Madison Avenue had in mind.

READ: LIPOVENKO: A STORY OF “COMING UP” IN 1960S MONTREAL

But for crunchers of health data, the numbers tell a compelling story.

Accidental falls sent more than 356,000 females and just under 307,000 males to hospital emergency rooms in a recent one-year period, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. (And that’s not the whole picture because provincial data was incomplete).

But most interesting is a gender gap widening with age: of ER visits by 65-84-year-olds who fell unintentionally, 78,764 were women, compared to just 49,632 men. (The sexes switch places in the ER only once for these accidents, in boys 17 and younger).

While there may be more older women, why do falls skew higher for women generally, especially once we’re eligible for the seniors’ discount at the movies?

Blame gender differences in balance, muscle mass and distraction.

Dr. Vivien Brown, a Toronto physician and CJN columnist, notes that women “fall more and fracture more than men, particularly if they’re distracted.”

For example, she cited a Swedish study of 70-year-olds asked to count backwards from 100 while walking; more female participants took a dive than men. “Women don’t do as well with distraction,” said Brown, who cautions her female patients of all ages against walking and texting simultaneously.

As one of civilization’s last holdouts without a cell phone, I don’t worry about that potential to jam my signals. But on the advice of the physiotherapist treating my knee injury, I’ve signed up for a program appropriately called Stand Up to Falls.

The name appeals to me: the post-war generation spoke truth to power, has stood up to power and some of us still do. So why not use the tactic on something as dangerous as falls? 

In my Montreal neighbourhood, the winter session is full and demand strong for the 12-week program, where a kinesiologist will teach not just how to avoid falls but how to fall properly.

Initially, I balked at the weekly commitment of three hours, but is there a more worthwhile investment of my time?

While grateful to the Jewish General Hospital’s medical and support staff for their wonderful care, and overwhelmed by the kindness of my husband’s hospital colleagues who sent Shabbat dinner (with homemade challah!) in the early innings, another injurious fall is not on my to-do list. 

If not for an accident, the falls prevention program would have flown under my radar, or been ignored altogether. Because the vagaries of getting older, at least for some women, are more acceptable when confined to hair colour and dressing age-appropriately.

But as boomers once learned how to stand on our own two feet, it’s time to do so again, to keep us dancing and out of the ERs, for the next 50 years. 

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