By Diane Carter, RN, MSN, FAAN
It is important to take special precautions as you approach an older walker from behind. This is because these walkers are often less aware of their surroundings as they walk than younger people. Currently, there are 54.1 million people in this country over 65. One in three of people over 65 have hearing difficulty. Approximately one in three people over 65 have some form of vision-reducing eye disease.
One in four Americans over 65 fall one or more times each year. The most common cause of a fall is a lack of proper balance which may be caused by medication side effects, or Meniere’s disease which causes inner ear issues and dizziness. Approximately 70% of people 65 and older have some challenges with vertigo which can cause the sensation of spinning or difficulty with spatial awareness. Inner ear infections may cause hearing loss which can also lead to balance issues.
Finally, as we age, the range of motion in our necks between the ages of 20 and 90 years of age may decrease by as much as 33%. In addition, our peripheral vision lessens. The combination of the decrease range of motion and peripheral vision means that in order to react to and see what is behind us, the person may find it necessary to come to nearly a full stop and turn their entire body to see someone as they approach from behind.
Here is what is crucial about this litany of decline. As we age these things often occur so slowly over time some older people are not even aware of these issues. Thank goodness, right? They also occur at different rates for different people. So don’t expect all older adult to react the same way.
These ideas apply to people of all ages but are particularly true when approaching an older person from behind on a bike. Here are a few ideas for avoiding an accident involving you and/or the older walker:
- You may not be as likely to see elders with ear phones but slow down and look for ear phones as you approach.
- As you approach an older person slow down and watch for a walking stick, cane, or walker. Some people are embarrassed to use this aides so watch for an unsteady gait as you approach.
- Do not assume that if you pass quickly the person will not react once aware of you. This may startle the person walking and perhaps cause a fall or something worse. So slow down and give a warning to the walker.
- It may seem childish but an old-fashioned bell on your bike may work better than yelling as you approach. Bells often have a higher frequency than the human voice and can be heard more easily than a deeper male voice, especially for older people.
- At about 20 feet, and again at 10 feet behind them, slow down call out loudly with a simple, direct command “I am passing on your left.”
- Do not say “On your left” when you are directly beside the walker. They are very likely to startle and stumble when someone says something they were not expecting right beside them.
- If at all possible, always pass on the left so if the person hears you, they are aware, at least in this culture, to move to the right. Passing on the right can be even more startling.
- After you have passed do not cut too close in front of them or speed up too quickly. Again, that darn startling. Believe me, it is annoying.
- If they are walking a dog, I would not count on the dog to move quickly to the right either, since their person is not aware of your approach.
It is crucial that as people age, they stay active and engaged in the world around them. They deserve so much credit for being out there and active. With a little help from their friends on bikes, they will be safe and comfortable enough to Keep-on-Truckin.