Combating the perils of aging when paralyzed

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on January 29, 2018 # Health

When I first sustained my cervical spinal cord injury in 1988, one of my major concerns was about how it would affect my longevity. Losing the use of my legs and most of the strength and dexterity in my hands and arms were not my primary concern; I wanted to meet an old "quad" so I could set aside worries about dying prematurely due to my paralysis.

I am pleased to report that in those last 30 years I have met several other individuals who are older than me, who are paralyzed, who have lived long past the age of retirement and who are still going strong. I am now one of those "old codgers" myself so am feeling qualified to speak to the secrets of reaching ever closer to a "normal" lifespan despite being paralyzed. With that in mind, here are a few things that I feel might help others of my age, or those who want to be here.

Stay involved. If a mobility impairment happens to "trap" you at home much of the time, you will need to work even harder to maintain contacts with the community and to remain physically and mentally active. The image of retired individuals staring at countless hours of television or holding a fishing pole while perched on the bank of a local body of water for hours at a time is not the type of activities that lead to longevity. Instead, consider participating in the activities of the local senior center, volunteering as a neighborhood "block watcher" if home most of the time during the day, and getting to know those neighbors better; after all, they might be your lifeline in an emergency or surprise you with your common interests when you get to know them better.

Remember to stimulate your mind, as the brain suffers from inactivity too. Become a member of the public library and browse the shelves seeking classic novels or other publications that you might have read at one time but can benefit from reviewing again. Public libraries also have hundreds of educational and entertaining DVDs or books on tape that can be checked out at no cost, for those who don't feel like going to the effort of reading printed words. A search of the internet will yield access to hundreds of old game shows, like Jeopardy or The $64,000 Question, where you can test your knowledge of history and the world around you.

Eat right, and maintain moderation. Too much of anything can be bad for us when it comes to our diet. Warnings we might have received in childhood to eat our fruits and vegetables are especially relevant today. Avoid excessive amounts of red meat, fat, carbohydrates, caffeine, sugar or salt; that evening cocktail or glass of wine might have some health benefits, as long as there are not multiple servings following it.

Pay attention to the little things and don't skip routine maintenance. Some serious Decubitis ulcers occur with little or no external warning. If phantom pains or increased spasticity occur, check with a medical professional to make sure it is not something serious. Checking blood pressure can be done at home, as the equipment to do so is relatively inexpensive. Most insurance plans allow for at least one wellness visit per year and be sure to discuss everything about your condition with your physician as their advice might be the formula to increase that longevity.

Exercise is not just for bodybuilders. For people who are wheelchair users or fairly immobile, we can't do much when it comes to avoiding the negative consequences of sitting for prolonged periods of time--perhaps even for all of our waking hours. If able to push a wheelchair or walk, however slowly, do it on a regular basis to retain the ability to do so. Whatever we don't exercise will eventually wither away, and no one can afford much of that.

Enjoy the ride, as we only go around once. Look back on the good times and recall them on a regular basis. That attitude might also help alleviate some stress about life, and eliminating stress is another one of those keys to a healthy and long life.

© 2018 Michael Collins

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.