Falls a risk for over-65s

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Elderly couple out for a stroll – falls and the over-65s photo courtesy pixabay.com

You may know this statistic about falls among older people, but it is shocking all the same to learn that 74% of people who were hospitalised after a fall had broken their hips. Head injuries were the next most serious (22%) with limb fractures further down the list.

About a third of all Australians in the 65+ age group will have a fall each year, but most are not serious. About 10% of people in this cohort who suffer a fall end up with a serious injury.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports states that about 100,000 people aged 65 and over were admitted to hospital after falls in 2012-2013. While that is a few years ago, the statistics are part of a 10-year study done at the time, so are representative. Discuss, as people say when posting something contentious on social media.

The falls could be as relatively minor as the tumble I took down our steep terraced acreage recently, which resulted only in bad language and a few minor scrapes. I few years ago I had a rather more serious fall – a broken rib and a bruised thigh – what rugby league commentators scoffingly dismiss as a ‘cork’. I was carrying two folding chairs in each hand while walking down the stairs. Did I mention it was raining and the soles of my shoes were wet? Duh!

Which brings me to She Who Is Ambidextrous (SWIA), who has taken the lead (2-1) in the Domestic Falls Stakes. Excuse me for making light of a poor but not overly serious situation.

SWIA had what’s known in the medical business as a FOOSH (Fall on Outstretched Hand). She sustained the injury as a result of tripping down some stone steps in the front garden.

As a young friend who rather more seriously injured his arm last year said when hearing this news, “At least it wasn’t a PAFO.”  (let me know if you can’t figure it out..)

Yes, it seems we are now in that age group who are more prone to falls, and, having fallen, are more likely to suffer an injury with a longer and sometimes problematic recovery time. Moreover, the fallout from falls can have psychological ramifications, making people less sure of themselves and reluctant to do ‘normal’ things which might result in falls.

It can happen to anyone, anytime.

The AIHW statistics quoted above include the telling observation that 72% of falls occur in the home or residential aged care facilities.

Stay on your feet – join an exercise class

Several Australian states have started a “Stay on Your Feet” campaign, which makes sense when you consider that in Queensland alone, falls cost the state more than $100 million a year.

Most people aged 60 and older are quite aware of the risk involved in taking a tumble and many attend exercise classes designed to shore up core strength and improve balance. So in many ways SWIA’s fall last week is a bit ironic as she is dutiful about attending exercise classes and daily doing what I never do (a morning stretch routine).

One of my regular readers says the thing he likes about the weekly read is that it so often addresses issues affecting ‘our’ age group (he means the over-60s).

So this is for you, mate. Core strength is the overall fitness and flexibility of the core muscles that help us keep our balance, sit down, stand up, lie down, kneel and squat. If your core strength is suspect (like me, down on one knee to get a dish out of the bottom cupboard), you will be found out using your hand/s for support.

Try these tests (and absolve me of all responsibility if you fall in a heap).

Sit on a hard-backed chair for 10 minutes. Now get up without using your arms for leverage. Do the same thing from a sofa, recliner or armchair.

As Billy Connolly says: “Ye know how auld you are by how long it takes to get out of a beanbag.”

The other trick is to stand on one leg for as long as you are able to hold the position, say 30 seconds (no hand support). Now try the other leg. Notice the difference?

The real test is how successful you are at putting on your underpants while standing.

Some people make provisions as they age by retrofitting their homes in some way, for example putting grab bars in the bathroom and toilet. Some even have ramps built to avoid going up and down steps or stairs. People aged 70 and over who live alone are often encouraged to wear a device which they can use to call for help.

Scientists in Australia, the US, UK and Europe are working to develop devices which can prevent falls by predicting the likelihood of a person having a fall. The University of Missouri is collating data from sensors built in to the walls of homes were aged pensioners live. The university’s researchers found that even small changes can predict if an elderly person is about to suffer a dangerous fall.

The risk quadruples if walking speed slows; for example when walking speed decreases by 5.1cm per second, the person has an 86% chance of toppling within three weeks, compared to just a 20% chance with no change. A drop in stride length of 7.6cm predicted a 51% chance of tripping within three weeks. Scientists elsewhere have developed wearable devices which can measure a person’s gait and ability to perform tasks like sitting down and standing up again. These can also reliably predict the likelihood of a pending fall. Scientists are finding these various devices helpful in predicting falls among people who have an illness which affects gait (Parkinson’s Disease, MS, joint pain (arthritis), spinal cord compression injuries and peripheral neuropathy, often associated with diabetes.

If all else fails, there are a range of alert buttons one can wear and press if in need of help. The help buttons trigger a monitoring station which will investigate and, if necessary, dispatch an ambulance.

The main risk of hurting yourself is if you are elderly and live alone, especially in a big, impersonal city. Chances are you could lie on the floor a long time before anyone discovered what had happened to you. I was reminded about this scenario when watching a new TV reality show, Ambulance, which is an inside look at London’s ambulance service. In the first episode, a man in his 90s has fallen to the floor and can’t get up. It’s been three hours and ambulances keep getting diverted to more urgent situations. To add to his woes, an ambulance is about to pull up at his front door when they get sent to help a woman who says she is having a miscarriage. Turns out to be a serial hoaxer

Good thing we live in a small community, where the first responders attending SWIA were prompt, thorough and cheerful. Medical staff at Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital were also very thorough, leaving nothing to chance.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, SWIA needs me to tie her shoelaces, take the lid off the pickle jar, and adjust the recliner… (and explain that the title of this article does not, of course, refer to said SWIA. Ed)

Today marks FOMM’s fourth anniversary. Congratulate me, make suggestions, or send gratuities!

Related reading, FOMM back pages

Junk Drawer Quest For Missing Key

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Photo: The junk drawer (after), by Bob Wilson

The small stuff autumn clean-up starts with a simple search of the junk drawer for a missing filing cabinet key. I recently shifted my office downstairs and in the shifting, all the things which were in places known to recent memory have been displaced. But it gives me a good chance to clear out what we call ‘the drawer of drawers’ – a small, deep drawer in which we throw stuff which has no particular home.

The first item in the junk drawer is an electronic button in a plastic pouch. I don’t remember what it is until squeezing it. A tune immediately begins to play, ‘Love Me Tender’, the A and B parts, faintly, reedily and slightly flat. Ah yes, that would be the satin sleep shorts from Valentine’s Day 1990-something. I surmise the idea was that one’s lover slides their hand inside the waistband (into which the button is sewn). You get the picture?

“Do you want to keep this?” I ask She Who Must Always Be Consulted.

“Aw sweet – I remember that…chuck it!”

The next items in the junk drawer are various jeweller’s screwdrivers, Allen keys and plugs you put in hardboard walls when you want to hang a picture. Then there are plastic bags full of assorted screws, nails and other wall attachments.

There are many batteries of various sizes. I set them aside to later test with the battery tester which must be in some other drawer.

Did I mention Blu-Tack? There is quite a bit of that, given our habit of posting music promo flyers all over town. I’m consolidating it into one packet clearly labelled Blu-Tack. You can see how insidiously a brand name worms its way into the language.

There are small padlocks (3) and padlock keys (7), none of which fit any padlock I can find thus far. There are 17 other keys which do not appear to have a match anywhere in the house. The old Camry key goes back quite a few vehicles. There are six plastic dimmer switch caps which became redundant last time the electrician was here.

“Do we really need to keep those?” I ask SWMABC (derisive snort).

At the bottom of the (empty) junk drawer, a tiny cockroach scrambles its way to liberty. I get the vacuum out and hoover up the cockroach grit in the bottom of the drawer. The remaining contents sit on the kitchen table awaiting re-distribution or disposal.

There’s a birthday candle, (5), which causes puzzlement until I realise there was also once a 6, which probably got thrown out after my landmark birthday. There’s a GetUp Action for Australia sticker which I just now stuck on my choir folder. There’s a Maleny Music Festival 2015 volunteer’s badge, a reminder to sign up for this year’s festival starting Friday 31st of August (and score points for being a volunteer promoter).

There’s a ball of green twine (with a strip of Blu-Tack attached), an eraser, a Niagara Falls keyring and a recipe label for Palm Street Choko Chutney. There are also quite a few small butterfly spring clips.

“Most of this shit belongs in the office,” I yell down the hall.

“There’s too much shit in the office drawers already,” comes the rejoinder. “And don’t say shit in your column.”

Motivated, I take some Bank of Queensland coin bags and separate pins, nails, screws and ‘other fasteners’ then stow them in the shed.

Will get around to that one day too, I mutter, soto voce.

So then I get stuck into the office desk drawer. There’s two paper knives (never use them), several magnifying glasses (useful), two boxes of rubber bands and lots of address labels I can’t use anymore because, as I wrote in this blog last April, I stopped paying for a private mail box.

Having drawn a blank in both drawers, I rummage through the three-drawer plastic storage container on my desk, one of which is full of USB drives, each helpfully labelled with a key tag. Oh, yes, and one of these tags is attached to the missing filing cabinet key! ‘Incroyable’ as the French would so foppishly say.

The drawer or box full of USB drives is the scourge of 21st century hoarders. Someone gives you one – “Oh you have to watch (bootlegged series)” and of course it is never returned. I still have my first USB drive, 256MB capacity (it cost $125). But if I tell you that you’ll think I’m a hoarder.

There’s a rarely-used Telstra internet dongle in this drawer, which gives me an angry hot flush when I think about Telstra’s plummeting share price, at $3.10 the lowest point since October 2011.

On Sunday I got onto Telstra’s ‘customer’ chat room to ask why it was that Telstra’s NRL app is charging data to my phone when it is supposed to be free. Incredibly, the customer service consultant told me her remit was for billing inquiries only so she’d have to transfer me to someone else. You know the story. I ended up on the ‘Crowd forum’, which is Telstra’s way of getting customers to solve their own irritating issues. A retired Telstra avatar suggested that perhaps I had not fully completed the installation process which links the NRL.com Live Pass to my mobile phone (very common, if you have the same issue – I could have told you that. Ed).

I know from reader research that 67% of you have no interest at all in rugby league, but I just want to say this one thing.

I remember when a TV reporter asked former Broncos captain Corey Parker what the Brisbane Broncos had to do to beat the Storm.

“Score more points,” was Corey’s laconic reply. He’s now a commentator with Fox Sports.

Miraculously, it seems, I feel freer and less anxious since (a) getting those unrelated issues off my chest and (b) completing the junk drawer declutter exercise.

But as happens with hoarders, the Love Me Tender button now sits on the office window sill, along with a strip of black and white negatives of uncertain provenance, a wooden frog with a fishing pole, a rabbit with one leg, a dumb-looking frog, a groovy ceramic frog with a dobro, a small concrete rabbit, a small pottery elephant, a pink piggybank, a faded postcard from Montreal, a weather station that needs a new battery and a lovely photo of SWMABC looking sweet and harmless. (Just goes to prove photos don’t always tell the truth. Ed)

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The winning post

There is one more item on the window sill – a chrome-plated star picket section, ‘The Winning Post’ (pictured left). It was a souvenir from the late George Stratigos, one of the few people in the world to ever sue BHP and win. I wrote (several) news stories in the 1980s about how it took Queensland Wire Industries six years to win a Trade Practices case over BHP’s refusal to sell Y-bar to QWI, which would allow it to make star pickets, thereby competing with a BHP subsidiary. After the High Court ruling, George had a batch of ‘Winning Posts’ cast and gave them to away to remind people how sometimes the little guy can win.

Call me sentimental, but I’m hanging on to the Winning Post, tarnished as it is by age and neglect. Like life itself, even.

FOMM back pages:

and another

 

Arise Sir Bob of FOMM – Senior Australian of the Year

Readers of Aboriginal or Torres Strait descent are warned that the following text contains names of deceased indigenous people.

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Image: ‘The Accolade,’ a painting by E.B. (Edmund Blair) Leighton (1853-1922), online courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Gee, wow – I’m speechless. It’s just as well I didn’t wear my “I am not Australian” T-shirt (in English and Arabic). I’d just like to thank my pet fox terrier Spot, who was my idol and a great motivating force in my life. She taught me to always watch my back. Only yesterday I was thinking that Australia needs more maverick voices in the media, people who are not shackled to editorial policies, politics or commercial imperatives. I realise what might have got the panel’s attention was Friday on My Mind’s impertinent suggestion that all those named Senior Australian of the Year still alive and intellectually sharp could run the country better than anyone currently on holidays waiting for parliament to resume.

I was wrenched from this splendid dream, about to take the stage at a lavish black-tie Australia Day function in Canberra (idly wondering why I wasn’t wearing trousers), when the dog barked. It’s a rare thing for the dog to bark so I had to go and investigate. It was nothing, or possum nothing, but I checked the doors anyway and then went to make toast.

Last night the National Australia Day Council (NADC) broke from a pattern of favouring sports and arts, naming physicist Professor Michelle Simmons as Australian of the Year. Last year the committee also went for science, choosing Alan Mackay-Sim, a biomedical scientist specialising in spinal cord injuries.

Professor Simmons, who leads the quantum physics department at the University of New South Wales, was named at a ceremony in Canberra last night.

The Australian of the Year has been dominated over 58 years by the fields of sports (15), arts (10) and medical science (9).

Previously the Australia Day awards have favoured high-profile sports people, including Adam Goodes (AFL), Lionel Rose (boxing), Robert de Castella (marathon runner), Evonne Goolagong (tennis), Cathy Freeman (athletics) and Steve Waugh (cricket).

Musicians, writers and artists too have worn the mantle, so as dreams go, mine was not so far-fetched. Winners from the Arts have included Arthur Boyd, Patrick White, Sir Robert Helpmann, Dame Joan Sutherland, John Farnham, Mandawuy Yunupingu, The Seekers and Lee Kernaghan.

Results have not always been as clear cut. In the 1970s, the rival Canberra Australia Day Council emerged, resulting in two individuals being named on four occasions. This happened first in 1975 (Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry, Sir John Cornforth, and the man in charge of cleaning up after Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, Major General Alan Stretton). They did it again in 1977, choosing Country Women’s Association president Dame Reigh Roe and Sir Murray Tyrrell, secretary to six governors-general.

In 1978 panellists picked candidates from seemingly opposite sides of the tracks – entrepreneur and solo yachtsman Alan Bond and Aboriginal land rights activist Gallarwuy Yunupingu. The first Aboriginal elected to Parliament, Senator Neville Bonner, and naturalist Harry Butler tied for honours in 1979.

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser put an end to this in 1979, establishing the National Australia Day Council (NADC). The awards were broadened that year to choose a young Australian who had made outstanding contributions to society. The committee chose community service volunteer Julie Sochacki for her work with unemployed people. They followed up in 1980, choosing quadriplegic athlete Peter Hill for his swimming feats at Paralympian events. This year the NADC chose Matildas soccer star Samantha Kerr, 24, as Young Australian of the Year.

But what’s in it for us old folk?

It took the International Year of Older Persons in 1999 to motivate then PM John Howard to add a new category to the Australia Day Awards. He chose Slim Dusty as the first Senior Australian of the Year. There can’t be too much argument about the choice of Slim as the inaugural elder, still pushing his career forward into a new century. He signed his first record deal in 1946 and was still performing in his 70s. Slim released his 100th album, Looking Forward, Looking Back, the year after he won the award.

Howard himself crossed over to the 60+ side of life in 1999 so the issue may have been weighing on his mind. It would have to be said the 18 recipients of the Senior Australian of the Year award so far come from a broader cross-section of the community than the overall award winners.

State winners of the 2018 Senior Australian of the Year awards included a pioneering surgeon, a scientist and diabetes specialist, a hearing health specialist, a biophysicist and an anti-elder abuse campaigner. Each state and territory selects its winner in four categories and the NADC judges all 32 candidates to select the Australia Day Awards (there is now also a Local Hero award).

Last night biophysicist Dr Graham Farquhar, 70, was named Senior Australian of the Year for his work on food security and feeding the world’s population. Dr Farquhar has won many international awards for his research in agriculture and climate change over the past 38 years.

The Senior Australian of the Year awards and others are just one facet of Republican pride in our national day (whether it is ever moved to a more appropriate date or not). The Australian government also doles out more than 700 imperially-inspired honours for services to professions and communities.

As the Sydney Morning Herald quite rightly pointed out last year, men are far more likely to win gongs than women, with men up to 20 times more likely to be nominated in their chosen field.  Not to labour the point, but gender bias seems evident in the Australian of the Year Award, with 48 men chosen and 14 women.

Those of you who proofread for a living may have noticed I referred to Australia as a Republic, when it is in fact a constitutional monarchy.

One may remember (with a sharp intake of breath), Australia Day 2015 when then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who had re-introduced the system of Imperial honours in 2014, dubbed His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (and retired Air Chief Marshall Angus Lawson), as Knights of the Order of Australia.

It is timely to now recognise this as a Trumpian turn of events, particularly Abbott defending his position as a ‘captain’s call,’ dismissing the social media furore as ‘electronic grafitti.’

Abbott‘s decision to recognise Phil for his years of public service (he is patron or president of 800+ organisations), did not help his support in the polls. Abbott reintroduced imperial awards in March 2014, resulting in outgoing governor-general Quentin Bryce becoming Dame Quentin. Incoming governor-general Peter Cosgrove was also knighted.

After Tony Abbott lost the LNP leadership, pro-Republican leader Malcolm Turnbull quietly re-removed Knights and Dames from the honours list in November 2015. Phil and the others got to keep their gongs, but safe to say we will never again see imperial honours in Australia.

Those with a liking for Morris dancing, Game of Thrones and the Age of Chivalry might miss the mediaeval trappings of a good knighting.

It’s sad in a way that we will never again see a Master of Ceremonies decked in the court finery of velvet, silk and lace, dubbing an erstwhile Sir by laying a sword on his shoulder.

Arise, Sir Bob of FOMM.

 

The naked retiree and life in the ‘Lucky Country’

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Retirees on park bench – Image by Just call me Mo https://flic.kr/p/eiewLK

Now that the naked retiree headline has got you in, time to say a quick hello from Stradbroke Island where I am taking a couple of weeks out with family. Today let me introduce you to guest blogger Kathryn Johnston who has a few thoughts to share on how retirees are getting on in the “Lucky Country.” Kathryn wrote this, the first in an occasional series, on New Year’s Day, coinciding with a new pension regime for retirees.

By Kathryn Johnston

This post titled “the naked retiree” is the beginning of a perspective of what is happening in Australia for older Australians. What does it mean to be a naked retiree? It is not about going to Alexandria Bay Beach on the Sunshine Coast or skinny dipping in a backyard pool. It is about the political landscape in Australia and its impost on older Australians. Politicians are our country’s custodians. They are elected to manage our country, our wealth, our health, our future.

As an older Australian I am interested in how older Australians are faring in this “great” country of Australia. Even while I write these words “great country” I ask, are older Australian’s getting a “fair go”? In 1964 when Donald Horne’s book “The Lucky Country” was released most of the populace understood he used the term ironically. Horne penned the words “Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.” Over time, others misinterpreted Horne’s message and have used the term “lucky country” to mean we have the best of everything in Australia. In Australia, today, as we live on borrowed money and older Australian’s live on borrowed time we find we are not so “lucky”.

My question is “why are older Australians subject to ‘unfair’ political decisions made law through the parliament, laws that no politician will ever be subject to?” The decisions have been made and older Australians are the target and method for “getting the budget back on track”. The catch-cry is that without the changes to age pension entitlements commencing today – 1 January 2017, the age pension will no longer be sustainable in the decades ahead. Is there another way?

This matter first came to my attention when I was in Tasmania in October. There was an article in The Mercury newspaper titled “retiree battles to stop pension cuts”. Ron Tiltman, 76 years of West Hobart tells how he will be affected by aged pension cuts. From 2017 he is $14,000 worse off a year. For Mr Tiltman he decided to take his superannuation in cash after his partner and former teacher became ill with cancer. After her death, his entitlements under the current rules were he would receive $33,000 a year of her defined benefit superannuation and a part age pension of $580 a year. At the start of 2016 Mr Tiltman’s pension was cut to $270 and as of today, he will not receive any government pension. The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) benchmarks the annual budget needed for Australians to live a modest and comfortable lifestyle. These are detailed below:

ASFA Retirement Standard   Annual living costs        Weekly living costs

Couple – modest $34,216 $658
Couple – Comfortable $59,160 $1,138
Single – Modest $23,767 $457
Single – Comfortable $43,062 $828

For Mr Tiltman to live a comfortable standard of living, which is what he planned for, he will need a yearly budget of $43,062. Now, under the government changes to the age pension, he must live a more modest lifestyle. As he said “it was implied that it would only be wealthy people affected – this is just wrong. Many of these people (i.e. those affected by the changes) are on very modest incomes and in fact 68% of those affected have a defined benefit income of less than $35,000.” Further, he said “this has hurt me – I’ve paid my taxes and now you see these politicians walking out of their jobs with huge pensions of their own” [1].

On 17 December, 2016 I read a letter to the editor of the Toowoomba Chronicle from Ray Harch who explained how he and his wife’s pension will be cut by more than $130. In his words “a great Christmas present”. If they had purchased a retirement unit at $500,000 they would have been eligible for a full pension but they chose to keep some money aside for unforeseen events as they aged. He questioned why older Australians should be penalised, those who had saved and planned for a more comfortable retirement. As he said the government “while at the same time wasting billions on other, in many cases, stupid programs”.

Then in the Brisbane Courier Mail it was reported that “half of older Australians fear they are ‘financially unprepared’ for retirement with looming pension changes. More than a quarter of Australians aged 55 and over are worried they will not be able to afford food or household bills, new research has shown.”[2]

One of the most telling stories [3] I have read in recent months is from Bob Parry, a pensioner who has more than 60 years’ experience as an accountant. Mr Parry was so angry about the changes he wrote to the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull. Mr Parry did several calculations and found that a single pensioner who had total assets of $541,295 under the “old” rules would receive a part pension of $9,761 per year but under the “new” rules they would lose their entire part pension. Their fortnightly income would drop from $955 to $579 a fortnight. Similarly, a pensioner couple who own their own home with joint total assets of $814,128 under the “old” rules receive $14,065 per year. Under the “new” rules their fortnightly income would drop from $1480 to $939.

Under the Turnbull government, whatever way you look at it, it is a mean-spirited cut for older Australians. Those who have worked conscientiously over their lifetime and gone without, in so many areas, will no longer have a comfortable retirement.

Due to the cuts and changes, many older Australians will soon be “skint” with savings eroded as they dip into their capital. The changes will make every older Australian spend their savings until ALL older Australians are in the same “paupers” pool relying on the full pension and a less than modest lifestyle. The government changes are successful in one area, that is, in penalising “middle Australia” to improve the life of the less advantaged. This is the life of the “naked retiree” – skinned to the bones! Older Australians who depended on and planned for retirement under the “old” rules – living in the “lucky country”.

You can read more on the “naked retiree” and other reflective topics in Kathryn’s blog, Scattered Straws. https://scatteredstraws.com/

Notes

[1] Story by Jessica Howard, The Mercury, Friday, 28 October 2016, p. 17

[2] Story by Monique Hore, Brisbane Courier-Mail, 30 December 2016, p. 18

[3] http://thenewdaily.com.au/money/retirement/2016/09/14/age-pension-assets-test/ – story by Jackson Stiles

Next week: She Who Also Sometimes Writes will have a pre-election piece for your greater edification. Meanwhile, I’m going for another nap.