CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Our canine simply doesn't understand either my commands or pleas to slow down, to stop yanking at the end of the leash.
When his foot slips, which has occurred on the icy snow-covered paths this month, he still has three legs to support him.
My husband recommends a walking stick, but I need both hands and arms to control the dog. So I walk carefully, very carefully. And, generally, with success.
There wasn't even much ice or snow pack the first time I fell; I simply was careless and failed to see a small icy patch atop the gravel.
The tumble didn't tear my snow pants or jeans, but it broke the skin on my knee. Small price to pay.
After that experience I avoided the roadway, but the paths through the fields have been uneven, with a mix of snow pack, ice where ponding water froze and unpredictable crusty surface.
I've not related stories of any of my tumbles to our daughter in the Eastern Panhandle, who has been checking up on us more often as the storms roll through. I've not been injured.
Her dog is better trained; it was ice on pavement in her subdivision that was her undoing. Conveniently, her tumble was witnessed by an EMT shoveling his driveway. Not so fortunately, the fall shattered the wrist of her dominant arm, necessitating surgery, physical therapy and a forecast of arthritis and carpal tunnel.
Now a recent research report indicates that concern about falls extends beyond skinned knees and broken bones.
Results of a Johns Hopkins study published last month suggests that spinal cord injury rates are rising in the United States, particularly among senior citizens who fall.
Researchers analyzed a national sample of more than 43,000 adults with spinal cord injury. The incidence among people 18 to 64 dipped from 2007 to 2009, but among those 65 and older it rose from about 79 people per million to nearly 88 per million.
Spinal cord injuries accounted for 30 percent of all injuries among seniors in 2009, compared to 23.6 percent in 2007.
What's worse, the researchers found that seniors with spinal cord injuries were four times more likely than younger patients to die in the emergency room. If admitted to the hospital, those over 65 were six times more likely to lose their lives than the younger patients.
The researchers also reported that falls have replaced vehicle crashes as the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. They were unable to pinpoint exact reason for the changes in age of victims and cause, but suggested a combination of the aging population, more active lifestyles of seniors and improvements in vehicle crash protection as airbags and seat belts use.
Beyond the toll of disability or death, spinal cord injuries are a growing financial burden on the health care system. The researchers estimated that emergency-room charges alone for spinal cords injuries for the three years totaled $1.6 billion, well above the rate of inflation. Care for individuals with serious spinal cord injury cost $1 million and upward.
The researchers, of course, suggest the need for increased efforts to prevent falls.
There is a wealth of prevention information provided by the National Institutes of Health, currently funding a search for better methods, The American Geriatrics Society, AARP and others.
Some suggestions include:
* Practice strengthening exercises to improve balance as suggested by medical provider, physical therapist or other reputable expert. Some are as easy as practicing standing on one leg.
* Avoid crossing one foot over the other on an icy incline or hill. Instead take sidesteps and keep your knees bent for better balance.
* When walking on ice is unavoidable walk in a shuffle to keep better balance.
* And the obvious, always check for icy patches when walking, getting out of vehicles or going up and down outside steps.
Also, while this addresses the arm rather than the spine, I thought it interesting. Experts recommend carrying a bag or other item in the dominant hand to increase the likelihood of using the non-dominant arm to break a fall.
Wouldn't help much while walking the dog, of course.
Until walking is safer, our daily ritual is no longer the one-mile round trip to the bend in the road. Instead it is a brief, watch-every-step hike to the end of the field and back. He can run in his pen, and I'm reduced to brisk walks back and forth on the deck that stretches around three-quarters of the house.
Contact writer Evadna Bartlett at eva...@dailymailwv.com.