Amazing Grays: Aging with a Spinal Cord Injury

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on May 04, 2020 # Health

I am not an expert on spinal cord injuries although I have been injured for nearly thirty-five years. However, I am getting to be an expert on aging! I thought I would share some thoughts on both.

The good news is that life expectancy for those of us who have a spinal cord injury has increased over the past number of decades. The bad news is that the issues aging presents in the general population now affect people who have a spinal cord injury; the injury can hasten the onset of some of these issues.

We should all be aware of secondary conditions that need to be monitored: cardiovascular issues, pressure injuries, and osteoporosis are a few that come to mind.

Osteoporosis is prominent in my mind because I fell in May 2011 and broke my shoulder. At the time, I was driving and walking short distances with a walker. Fortunately, I didn’t need surgery, but my arm was in a sling for six weeks followed by several months of physical therapy. While I was grateful for the no-surgery proclamation by the doctor in the emergency room, it ended my days of driving.

Giving up driving was, in many ways, even more painful than my broken shoulder! I realized it was necessary to surrender my keys – for others who might be on the road along with me, as well as for myself. Safety first, regardless of personal wishes, I reminded myself. Donna Lowich, Senior Information Specialist

The broken shoulder also left me without any mobility device; I couldn’t put any weight/pressure on my shoulder for a long time, even after it was out of the sling, so I lost the use of my walker. I was also unable to propel myself in a manual wheelchair.

That one fall changed the level of independence that I had worked hard for many years to achieve. But to balance out the sadness, I looked for the good things still in my life to enjoy. And, I found them: my family, especially, my granddaughters. I had one granddaughter at the time; I now have three! And each of them brings a joy and happiness to me that minimizes the loss of my ability to drive. I have been given more than was ever taken away.

I truly believe that looking for the good in life brings about an overall positive attitude which can help defeat negativity. That negativity can lead to a sense of despair.

Several years ago, I had a DEXA bone density test, which showed that I am at risk for fracture of my hips. Soon after, I applied and was accepted into an exercise program, which is geared to individuals who have a spinal cord injury, although they also work with people who have had a stroke, multiple sclerosis or traumatic brain injury.

I love this program because it keeps me moving which helps with the osteoporosis. It also helps with cardiovascular health, skin health and bladder health, all of which are secondary conditions to SCI, which can be exacerbated by aging. As a result, my overall stamina has increased, blood pressure normalized, and skin remains healthy.

The cardiovascular system is also a major concern. Lack of mobility affects the major components affecting cardiovascular health: obesity, diabetes, cholesterol levels and high blood pressure (usually brought on by obesity).

This is a constant worry for me. I am on a continuous diet to try to fight off weight gain. (I end up losing and gaining the same three pounds!) But I keep fighting! Due to digestive issues, I’ve made dietary changes for the past six years: drinking more water, eating salads, limiting my intake of carbs. I think that helps in my fight, too.

While aging with a spinal cord injury can be challenging, with a positive mindset and continual monitoring we can remain strong, happy and able to enjoy all that life has to offer.

By Donna Lowich, Senior Information Specialist, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. To contact an Information Specialist, please call 800-539-7309 or visit www.ChristopherReeve.org/Ask