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Interview with an 87 year old woman that lives alone

A short interview conducted with someone who had a bad fall recently that led to a couple of insights about her life.

Photo of jeremy medford
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Background

I interviewed a 87 year old woman that lives alone in her own house in a mountain town here in California. She is a long time friend of our family. In fact, she's known me my entire life. She has always been a very active person including ski racing and teaching for a living. But in recent years her physical health has deteriorated and she has fallen four times, including one that cracked her pelvis. I talked with her about her daily life and her approach to preventing falls as well as more detailed discussion of a couple of her falls.


Fall #1

One of the falls she described to me occurred in her home seemingly out of the blue. She said she was standing in her kitchen holding a cup of coffee one morning and the next thing she knew she was lying on the ground and several minutes had passed. She had fainted without any warning and fell. Luckily she wasn't hurt. She had her phone nearby and was able to notify someone that she had fallen. She told me that her medication(s) often cause dizziness or fainting. What worried her the most is that she didn't feel anything prior to fainting that might have given her the chance to sit down.


Fall #2

She was outside in her yard looking at her flowers, this time using her cane. She said something caught her attention and when she turned to look at it, she lost her balance and fell straight down on her behind. She tried to flag down someone driving by, but nobody stopped because they thought she was just waving to say hi. It was her emergency alert button that eventually caused someone from the hospital to show up and take her in. This fall resulted in the cracked pelvis. The recovery from this took months and caused sever pain for her.


Daily Life

I was curious about what daily life is like for her. When I called her she was fixing up her hair. I asked what she had planned for the day that might give her reason to do her hair. She said nothing really! It's just that she felt like making an effort at being presentable since it had been 2 months since she went to the beauty salon. Today she was snow-bound because of the big storm dumping 2 feet of snow on her steps and she had to wait for a friend to come and shovel it off.

More related to falling, she mentioned that when moving around the house she always uses her cane and braces herself with whatever piece of furniture is close by. It's very important to maintain '3 points of contact'.

She also mentioned that the cane is really only good for indoors and that she uses a walker when she goes out. Different devices are better suited for different environments. She has no shame or embarrassment when using any of these devices. Her primary concern is not falling - whatever it takes.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

1. Not always physical ability issues that contribute to falls, medication side effects are a factor. 2. It is not always the most obvious places or situations when people fall. 3. She adapts to different environments and uses devices, techniques etc. that are best suited for them.

Tell us about your work experience:

On paper my day job is working as an engineer in Software/Hardware Quality Assurance, but I'm interested in solving problems that directly impact people's lives.

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Photo of Joanna Spoth

What an enlightening interview, jeremy medford ! Thanks for sharing and inspiring others.

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