or When You Fall, You Get Back Up

By: Heather Souve

My grandfather bikes anywhere from 80 to 120 miles a day – depending on the weather and terrain, of course. He does this for fun. For most of us, that’s a marathon; a monthly goal; maybe a weekly goal if we were really ambitious. I’m not alone in thinking that when someone asks if I want to do a recreational, leisurely activity, a 100 mile bike ride is not on my list! But that’s the type of person my grandfather is, he loves to bicycle. When he’s in need of a challenge, he’ll take a month to bike from coast to coast. In short, he puts people in their twenties to shame.

So when my grandfather broke his hip in January, I was petrified. Working in the senior care industry for as long as I have, I’m familiar with the statistics. Falls are common amongst seniors and hip fractures can be fatal. About a fifth of the elders who suffer a fracture require surgery and it can take a year to heal. And even though it’s rare, I feared what might happen if he didn’t heal properly.

I didn’t know what my grandfather would do if he couldn’t ride for a year or ride at all. It’s part of who he is!

However, my fears were alleviated when the doctor returned to my grandfather saying that he needed physical therapy and was not to put pressure on it for 6 weeks. Immediately, my grandfather got to work in the skilled nursing facility and – get this – he healed in 3 weeks. When he went in for a post-op visit, the surgeon agreed that my grandfather could be discharged and go home using a walker. Every day, he pushed himself further and before he even had the go-ahead, he signed up for the annual RAGBRAI bike race across Iowa in July.

As I write this, I’m proud to say he completed the bike race with flying colors.

While I consider my grandfather extraordinary, there is something to be gained for everyone in this tale, especially for those worried about getting older.

First and foremost, my grandfather is in top physical condition and still broke a hip. I think healthy seniors run the risk of being too confident, that they won’t suffer from the common injuries among the elderly, but the fact is it can happen to anyone. Fractures are common in the elderly because our bones naturally grow more porous, it’s not something we can really prevent outside of being more cautious – especially in wet zones like the bathroom.

But the second, and more crucial takeaway is that, while this incident could spell disaster for others, my grandfather’s active and healthy lifestyle made him heal faster than statistics show. I’ve worked with a lot of elders and a common fear they have is the inevitability of aging; they equate it to growing weaker.

While hip fractures and falls are common among the elderly, they’re far less hazardous if you continue to exercise and workout. Then, you’re more likely to recover from injuries with minimal difficulty – there is always a benefit.