Walking on the edge of old age
About eight kilometres a day. That's what I walk, Monday to Friday. Walking shoes. Headphones in, or at least one ear full of headphones. I'm terrified I won't hear a car coming so I've taken to lopsided music and news, either Radio National or the Rolling Stones, which shows you exactly how old I am.
But it wasn't a car that hit me last week, it was people. Young people. Early evening, I was walking on the side of the footpath where doors open. Suddenly, a torrent escapes from a building. A torrent of teenagers. They ?don't mean to, but they knock me over.
Not just slightly off balance, where I might stumble then steady myself, the full drop – head first to the ground, glasses off, completely outstretched.
The giant children are instantly apologetic. There's a chorus of: "Oh God, I'm so sorry. Can we help you up?" And, just as quickly as I was knocked off my feet, I'm set right again. It seems like there's a teenager assigned to each of my joints, lifting me up and continuing to sing their apologies. Once I'm upright, they seem huge in comparison to me. This must be what being a toddler feels like.
It's as if I'm a doll they're trying hard to ?balance. They push back gently on my shoulders, just to make sure I'm not going to topple forward again.
They are kind and remorseful and keep asking me if I'm all right. I giggle and say, "Sure, sure." The biggest girl, she must be a clear 30 centimetres taller than me, talks to me as if I'm simple. "Are you sure you're OK?" I think she's holding back from patting me on the head and saying, "There, there."
I nod and they disappear, running across the road against the lights.
A few metres on, I lean against some brickwork and start sobbing. The knee that took the brunt of the fall is throbbing and my glasses feel like they've been bent out of shape. ?I hobble home. I'm worried more about a hole appearing in my new and far-too-expensive jeans than I am about broken bones, assuming that I wouldn't be able to walk on a fracture.
The next day, I'm shaken. Walking towards the tumble spot, my heart starts to race.
This, sadly, is normal. A senior research officer at Neuroscience Australia, Stuart Smith, says once you fall over, you start to imagine it's going to happen ?all the time.
"You don't even have to fall over," he says. "You can just have a sense that you are not as steady on your feet as you used to be."
And therein lies the reason you might become as frail as you fear. You start to tell yourself that you shouldn't try things. You start to be wary about your sense of balance so ?you don't do the kinds of things that might test that ?balance.
And there I was, living out ?Smith's bad-case scenario, all within a couple of days. I went from being the kind of person who dashes through traffic to being the kind of person who clutches at balustrades. Pathetic really. I had to pull myself together.
The solution, says Smith, is to keep your legs strong – and your mind even stronger. He says two of his clients, married to each other, come to his lab regularly. The wife is vigorous, spritely; the husband chairbound, even though he's as strong as an ox. "But all he wants to do is sit in his chair . . . he won't walk around without his cane or his walker – his belief is preventing him from being physically active."
Smith's team has a solution – one with which I'm already familiar. They've devised an answer ?for old folks and – in their quaint, young person's way – they've made it about dancing. Or at least about practising to dance in the privacy of your ?home.
Based on the video game DanceDance Revolution, you have to dance on a mat according to what the arrows on the screen tell you to do. The original DanceDance Revolution came complete with house music. Or techno.
Smith's team – sweet things – thought we older folk liked to dance to '40s big bands. Or Frank Sinatra. Has it really come to this? Do we really look so old?
Turns out that when someone asked older folk who were at risk of falling which music we wanted to boogie up our ability, the answer was the Beach Boys. Or Limping Jack Flash.
I'm devastated that Smith doesn't mention Abba. And I fear he's never heard of One Direction. Completely danceable, at least for 15-year-olds.
My family are not sympathetic. They claim I'm trying to align myself with old people so I can have a genuine reason to retire. My fall, they contest, was not a fall. It was a push. An accident. Get over it!
I have my revenge all planned for the relatives ?with an empathy bypass. It's not for nothing I used to be called the Dancing Queen. From now, it's Abba all hours. Bring it.
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