Feeling Stupid in a Cinema….

Decided to re post this blog* in response to today’s news that Cinemas are being encouraged to address the age market….be age friendly.

Good, but no one has mentioned Cinema design. Those steps!  With no handrail…in  the dark!

It is a pretty good way to feel stupid. That urgent loo call in the middle of a film and you know you will have to feel your way down two dozen steps. And on each one  apologise  for resting your hand on a bald head or young woman’s  shoulder….

Yes, they will give me a front row seat, but then you get neck ache, cataract lenses don’t focus properly and anyway, most film buffs prefer to watch films from the higher seats.

*Feeling stupid on a step!

At 82 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….and no handrail.


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  or try to move in the dark….

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!

2. How are we going to persuade planners and designers, who don’t yet know this, that we aren’t disabled but we do need handrails.

Handrails Everywhere ….On slopes, on ANY step, in showers, in all places where we lower ourselves and certainly in Cinemas.


  1. Maureen Helen
    June 22, 2018 / 11:16 pm

    This is a an amazing blog, Joyce. Thank you for the information about reflexes and sensory information, which makes sense. I’m somehow very relieved to read that this is not my individual problem, but one of ageing.

  2. June 25, 2018 / 1:55 am

    My friend Graham was annoyed that he was expected to hire a guide to take him up to the peak of Sabah’s Kinabalu range. Ridiculous, he thought, as he mounted all those steps with comparative ease. But coming down again was a different story entirely. His knees collapsed and he practically had to ride on the guide’s shoulders to bring him back. So THAT’S why the guide was there!

  3. June 27, 2018 / 3:34 am

    We do need handrails! My husband uses a cane, but still is hesitant when it comes to going down stairs. There are places he simply will not go because of the lack of supports.

  4. Anne Yuill
    January 25, 2019 / 3:33 pm

    Great call out Joyce and I would just say not only will older people benefit from handrails but all age groups. Parents with young children would benefit, people with physical and or sight difficulties, people with co-ordination problems etc etc the list is many.

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