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Using a Cane

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

“A cane makes me feel old.” Some of us have heard this before.  Yet we know using a cane can be a life line.

Kathy Gantner, a physical therapist with Torrance Memorial Medical Center agrees.  She strongly urges her patients to continue using a cane to walk distances, to keep pain at a minimum or to walk without limping.  She adds, “People look younger walking with a cane than walking without one.  Without some assistive device, they may walk bent over, drag their feet or walk more slowly.”  The latter could be a serious problem particularly in a cross street with a stop light.  “You might not get across in time,” she added.  And if one is hardly moving, “the balance system is not provoked and that’s important to stay healthy.”

Among older adults, there is always the concern about maintaining balance.  We know that over 90 per cent of hip fractures are caused by falling.  These serious injuries often result in long-term impairment in functioning, nursing home admissions and even death according to the Center for Disease Control.

Gantner reminds us that a cane serves an important function; often it is a temporary one.

That takes us to the subject of feeling “old,” often defined by the number of years we have lived.

My favorite definition is a quote by the statesman Bernard Baruch. “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”

What people can and cannot do often conveys youth or “old age.”  A cane is associated with not being able to walk without some support. For some, that may conjure memories of grandparents looking older in their 70’s with gray hair, poor posture, unstable gait and living life on the periphery.  In general, that image does not match the realities of 2012.

The challenge is to have a strong enough sense of self that overrides public perceptions and challenge memories that don’t apply to today’s world.  That’s what aging is about in this decade — redefining what it means to get older.

(Note: Canes now come in fashionable colors and designs.  We may see them as fashionable accessories to compliment wardrobe. )

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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