Feeling stupid on a step…
At 81 I look back at all those old ladies with dodgy knees, who were sent into our Physiotherapy department and I cringe.
‘It’s alright going up, but coming down is the problem.’ was a common complaint.
If you are over 70 you may already be saying it yourself.
Young JW of course knew straight away what the problem was. ‘We just need to get your knee muscles stronger,’ said that confident young person reassuringly.
My advice didn’t work. Blame the patient for not doing their exercises, of course!
I now know I was wrong. I didn’t know then what I know now. I had no idea what Knees feel like at 80. I certainly hadn’t a clue what the ladies were trying to explain.
Now my Knees tell me every day. And it is exactly the same message: Going down steps starts to feel difficult as you age.
Note! I said feels. And it is that feeling which is hard to explain to anyone who has not yet experienced it.
Ancient GW tries to describe it.
There you are, a happy 80-year old setting off across a park taking the Knees for their daily. They are protesting as usual, of course, but willing. A promise of only a mile or two, probably 30 minutes, reassures them. Lovely day, so off we go.
All’s well until you spot a view point. Curiosity (one of the great pleasures you have time for in old age) says we must go and take a look. Of course. Only a few steps up we tell the Knees, and there we are, all of Glasgow at our feet. Beautiful skyline, well worth it. Enjoy! Turn to go back.
Ah …here it is, the problem the patients talked about.
Deep steps back down.
The Knees start getting scared, you can tell. Help needed. Look around, no hand rail. Didn’t bring a stick. Now what? You stand on the edge of the top step. It is only 9 inches high for heaven’s sake.
But the Knees have now gone into total panic mode. NO!
You gingerly put an encouraging foot forward, but the Knees have frozen. No way are they going to let go. You can hear their scream … ‘No, we will collapse! Don’t do it! You’ll fall …’
They win. It is ridiculous. You feel ridiculous. You are a mature adult and you can’t tell your own Knees what to do! You stand there frozen, and look round to see if anyone is watching this nonsense. Start smiling as if you are just admiring the view. But you still can’t step down. Stuck.
And that’s exactly what the patients were saying: ‘My Knees feel as though they will let me down’. They were so right. Though now, literally being in their shoes, I realise that it is actually the opposite, the Knees won’t let me down. The ability to do a controlled bend has vanished!
Most of us Oldies agree, the knees start panicking in our early 70s. You discover that, going down steps with no rail, you start to clutch at straws! Yes, I mean that. You do it without thinking.
‘I can get down OK if I hold onto a few twigs ……How bizarre is that to tell anyone? Except to giggle with your peers. Sounds stupid, looks stupid, feels stupid.
Interestingly, nobody tells any of us Oldies what to do. It just happens, independently, to us all.
So what is going on?
It isn’t strength, or rather, not entirely so. Research is confirming the real problem. It is a gradual failure in your sensory mechanisms. Only a slight one, but the reflexes which control balance and slow lowering are missing some information so cannot react as they did. Marvellous things our bodies, quick adjustment needed, so hand out and reach for something to substitute. All the reflex needed was a bit more accurate idea of where your body is in space. And amazingly just touching something external is enough. We clutch at straws! Or touch a wall, anything.
See my blog on balance. A similar problem happens as you get older when you close your eyes.
Fortunately research is also showing that balance exercises, dance, Tai Chi …..any activity where you practice controlling a wobble is helpful for improving and staving off.
Why have I written this?
I want to ask two questions:
1. Is it possible to really understand how it feels to be in an ageing body until you have tried it? I am beginning to doubt it! And, if not, does it matter? I think it does.
2. Without this understanding, can the medical professions genuinely tackle the problem? Is research hitting the real causes of these problems of an ageing body?
Perhaps we should be saying more clearly what is happening to us and asking why? Over to you!