Canadian doctors urge caution as seniors dive into extreme sports
Published Tuesday, April 8, 2014 10:01PM EDT
More seniors are willing to push their physical limits with activities like skydiving and zip-lining, but Canadian trauma doctors are warning that there could be a price to pay for extreme sports in your golden years.
Seniors are the country’s fastest growing age group, and could number 10 million in the next two decades.
Many older Canadians are finding inspiration for post-retirement activities in shows like “Senior Xtremers,” which profiles older people who participate in physically taxing activities such as kick-boxing, horseback riding and drag-racing.
Seniors may also be taking their cues from high-profile thrill-seekers.
In 2013, former prime minister Jean Chretien created some buzz when he tried his hand at kitesurfing. An online video of Chretien, who was 79 at the time, showed him catching some waves near Hatteras Island, N.C. And former U.S. President George H.W. Bush is somewhat of a skydiving aficionado. The elder Bush jumped out of planes to mark his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays.
Inspired by Bush, “Partridge Family” actress Shirley Jones had planned to skydive in celebration of her 80th birthday in late March, but agreed to postpone the jump after her sons and grandchildren intervened. Jones said she still plans to jump at a later date.
Skiier Gerry Cotter, 82, participates in the Senior Ski Team Tech Camp at B.C.’s Whistler Blackcomb. It is aimed at “capable skiers” over the age of 50.
“If you fall, it seems to feel a little harder than it did when I was 20,” Cotter told CTV News.
Although seniors like Cotter are trying to keep fit, more are ending up injured, says Dr. David MacKinnon, a trauma specialist who works at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
“I have seen more and more active elderly that are injured doing activities that maybe a few years ago they weren’t doing as much, such as cycling, running,” MacKinnon told CTV News. “Lots of things that they probably didn’t used to do.”
A recent survey at St. Michael’s Hospital found a steady rise in traumatic injuries in those over 60. The injuries take longer to heal and often come with more dangerous complications. Global surveys are showing a growing number of injuries in active sports like diving, mountaineering and skiing.
“We know that the exact same injury with the exact same broken bones or injured organs, the elderly will have a significantly higher mortality rate,” MacKinnon said.
Doctors suggest it may be time for safety campaigns targeted at those over 60 which urges caution and prudence.
Geriatrician Dr. Camilla Wong urged common sense, such as wearing a helmet or using a seatbelts when necessary.
“Engaging in sports but making sure that the equipment that they are using is appropriate,” Wong said.
Cotter said it’s a message he and his fellow skiiers takes to heart when they hit the slopes.
“We’ve been scared enough over the years and done enough dumb things that we don’t want to keep on doing them at age 82,” Cotter said.
Seniors can also try to keep injuries to a minimum with strength training, doctors say.
With a report from CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip