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Have You Been Dropping More Things as You Get Older?

It is hard to be sure but it seems to be so for me. And it is really annoying.

For example, one day last week, I dropped a spoon on the kitchen floor. I picked it up, rinsed it off and as I reached for the towel, I dropped in again. Damn.

A day or two before that, I had dropped the shampoo bottle in the shower – a new, full one that barely missed my toes. Later that day, I dropped the two-quart, plastic box where I store the cat's dry food, scattering it all over the kitchen. Damn again.

Not long ago, I dropped a nine-inch butcher knife – that one could have been disastrous – but on another day I was lucky to be standing on a carpet when I dropped my mobile phone so it didn't break.

None of these occurrences is important individually and probably not even in their proximity to one another. But they made me wonder if dropping stuff is a “thing” with old people. So I took to the internet.

There is a lot of unsourced and untrustworthy health information online and that is always dangerous for “low information viewers,” as it were. The first I found was a large number of forums where people with no expertise were freely offering their uninformed opinions.

In answer to inquiries about dropping things, many instantly went to fear-mongering: Based on nothing at all, they advised people to see a doctor right away because it could be an early symptom of MS, ALS, Huntington's disease and more.

That's nuts. Those were anonymous forums, for god's sake. I hope no one takes them seriously.

Digging deeper at more reputable websites, I found that sometimes dropping things can be among the symptoms of serious disease but only one symptom, a minor one among dozens of others anyone would notice long before worrying about dropping something.

Checking further, I found that dropping things is not a big enough issue with growing old to warrant much notice.

In fact, a webpage of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for training elder home staff is the only direct mention of elders dropping things I found.

”The sense of touch changes,” they report. “In older adults the sense of touch may decrease as skin loses sensitivity. Pressure, pain, cold and heat do not feel the same as they used to feel. Decreases in touch sensitivity may cause residents to drop things.”

That reference to skin losing sensitivity reminded me that a few years ago, I discovered through personal experience that old people often cannot be fingerprinted, particulalry with electronic scanners, because their fingerprints are worn off.

When I wrote about that here three years ago, I quoted Scientific American magazine:

”...the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.”

That would certainly affect sense of touch and the ability to know if you are holding things tightly enough. A report from Oregon State University [pdf] concurs with Pennsylvania report supplying a bit more medical information:

”With aging, sensations may be reduced or changed. These changes can occur because of decreased blood flow to the nerve endings or to the spinal cord or brain. The spinal cord transmits nerve signals and the brain interprets these signals.

“Health problems, such as a lack of certain nutrients, can also cause sensation changes. Brain surgery, problems in the brain, confusion, and nerve damage from injury or chronic diseases such as diabetes can also result in sensation changes.”

I finally found the most pertinent answer to my question at The New York Times. Noting that fine touch may decrease in old age,

“Many studies have shown that with aging, you may have reduced or changed sensations of pain, vibration, cold, heat, pressure, and touch. It is hard to tell whether these changes are related to aging itself or to the disorders that occur more often in the elderly...”

This Times information is quoted from A.D.A.M., a private source of medical information for health professionals and other paid subscribers.

So what I have deduced from two or three hours on the internet is that barring injury or disease or, perhaps, waning strength that affects one's ability to grip strongly, maybe elders do drop things more frequently.

Maybe a diminishing sense of touch in general means that we cannot effortlessly perceive the appropriate strength of our grasp as automatically as when we were younger. At least, that's what I choose to believe for myself until someone enlightens me further.

Following on that, for the past few days I have been making a conscious effort to be sure I am holding whatever is in my hand tightly enough that it will not slip.

I want that to become second nature because the knife I mentioned was a close call and I certainly don't want to drop a cup of hot coffee on my foot or the cat.

Does any of this ring a bell for you?


That's all fine and good. But I'm only 37, my skin is elastic and healthy and I'm dropping things as often as you are

I found some research on this and it's pretty good:

"Older Adult Clumsiness Linked to Brain Changes"

(Seniors use less effective reference frames to visualize nearby objects)

By Gerry Everding June 4, 2013

Interesting research, Andy Cook.

Thanks for mentioning it.

I have noticed dropping things more and more. You are absolutely correct...when I first searched for information, ALS and MS were mentioned. I’ll take more time focusing on what I grasp and see if it works. Until then, thanks for the insight and all the comments. Good info.

You did s fabulous job with this post❤️❤️., Thank you

Three years ago I had 2 falls and hit my head. Both were in the home and it was thought I fainted once from getting up too fast. I am 70 so 67 then. I suffered post TBI syndrome with dizziness, headaches, balance problems. keyboarding issues and bad handwriting. My handwriting and keyboarding have improved but I still make tons of errors I never did before. I got a handwriting book to improve that and constantly look things up online I cannot remember. I have found that even the idea of so called multitasking does not work for me. if I am getting a cup of coffee I have to concentrate just on that. I cannot carry on a conversation and do another task. I either screw up the task or don't quite get what is being said. If my husband and I pass things to one another I suggested we ask the other one if they have it to preventing dropping things . My balance is still not perfect after specialized balance PT, so I use the cuts in the curbs and slopes anywhere .Have decided that aging is just a long string of adaptations. I try not to keep count.

Thank you for such a well thought out, common sense approach, article!

I'm a 70 year old man and I drop and spill things frequently. I have no injuries to my hands, so I believe I need to pay more attention to what I'm doing. My wife scolds me, which I find even more annoying. So here I am looking for answers. I plan to read every comment. I did want to mention two other related "habits". When I toss things into the kitchen trash bin, 80% do not go in despite me being very careful. My favorite item is anything made of mylar and the plastic around candy bars. The second item involves me putting on any shoes that have laces. When I get the shoe on and look for the ends of the laces, they are under the shoe and I'm stepping on them. I do spill liquids frequently in my bedroom, which does take some time to clean up. I liked some of the comments about the skin on my hands may not be abrasive enough to keep a good hold. I also try and be carful about bending over to pick things up. I don't pick up anything for several hours when I wake and I try to remember ALWAYS BEND AT THE KNEES.

I don’t think I’ve ever dropped anthi

Ah Bollox - another screen, first me fat ar$e breaks one and now I’m dro

Ah for crying out lou


Our skin dries out as we age also, I’ve gone from never really dropping anything to looking like a really bad juggler.

To combat this I’ve begun to deliberately drop things and then pick them back up as the chances of dropping them twice consecutie

Ahhh for geez sake - I give u

Thank you!!!!!
This morning I dropped the lid of our frying pan and the whole floor was covered in peices of glass. I was so shocked and took me some time to clear evreything. Then I dropped the wooden bread plate. Then I was shocked. I was convinced that something serious was amiss.
I googled. The first that caught my eye was MS but luckily my eye also caught falling. I do not fall. Then I saw Huntington's and my knees trembled more.
Then I found your note. Praise God. Thank you.

Thank you so much for this post. An initial search had me looking at signs of MS, too, which didn't fit. What you posted about losing sensation makes sense in my case.

61 and have been dropping stuff always on the floor for the past 3 years. Everything. Maybe 3 times a day. Just dropped this ipad on the floor which prompted this search. Very very very annoying

Very helpful to know that I should avoid programming my phone with fingerprint security, wouldn't have thought of that! And bless you for explaining the "drops-ies" that were freaking me out!

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