On Living With Health and Ill Health
INTERESTING STUFF – 23 February 2019

Dropping Things in Old Age (Again)

EDITORIAL NOTE: One of those things they don't tell you is how everything you do when you get old takes longer and/or tires you more than when you were younger. It's been a busy week and I find myself sitting here without a story for today and no time to write one.

But that gives me a chance to repeat the all-time most popular blog post on TGB. When it was first published, it was titled
Have You Been Dropping More Things as You Get Older?

People have been leaving new comments all through the three years since it was first posted and it comes up sometimes in comments on other blog posts. So, here is the original. See what you think.

* * *

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?


In my case, at age 60, dropping things seems very correlated to vestibular issues. Which itself seems very correlated to perceived tinnitus loudness levels.

My insurance (Kaiser) does not allow me to identify root causes, or access to vestibular or neuroplastic healing therapies. But youtube videos have helped with symptom relief. A "VNG" test did prove to Kaiser that my symptoms were not caused by "anxiety" as they tried to imply.

For folks with similar symptoms (including lightheaded-ness), and with decent health insurance, it may be worth having VNG or similar vestibular testing. Finding an ENT or neurologist that has a clue about these issues can be challenging. For autoimmune causes (pretty common), if you can afford it, functional medicine seems to be a good route.

All just my opinions - I am not a physician.

Addendum to my previous comment.

1. I agree with Ronni. In most cases, occasionally dropping things is probably NOT cause for medical concern.
2. When - as in my case - there are related symptoms, it is worth getting checked out.
3. As we all know, sometimes medications can cause side effects. For instance, there are many rx medications that can cause lightheadedness, or cause or exacerbate tinnitus.
4. Most of us have learned to be our own advocate. It sometimes takes effort to find the right provider, and a bit of assertiveness to insist on diagnosis beyond the initial it is probably "x"
5. Ronni's admonition about relying on info from the internet is VERY apt & prudent. otoh, I have had several conditions where info from the internet has helped me get educated so that I can then ask the questions that HAVE eventually led to the right dx or treatment. Which would not have happened had I not done so.
Choices, decisions. When to fight/resist, versus when to accept and be at peace with the outcomes. We are all imperfect, and we all do our best.

Have a great weekend, folks !

A tremor can also affect the ability to hold on to things safely. Not all tremors are a dire sign of Parkinson's disease. Many are supposedly harmless... but they're limiting. if you can't trust your hands not to shake at the wrong moment and spill boiling water, you don't dare to use the built-in microwave oven over your stove, not even to reheat tea or coffee.

Spilling things is not exactly the same as dropping things, though.

Another benefit of having a knowledgeable TaiChi instructor is he/she will know of how to exercise the hands and feet, to the best of one's ability. Another resource might be an acupuncturist.

Did you know there are 7,200 nerve endings on your feet? And for the hands, there are 1,300 per square inch! The NIH has an elder/senior medical site which might have exercises for these vitally important appendages.

And a short hop from that information is finding how to keep the wrist strong.

A problem for me is paying attention, like when going from one spot to another, while balancing a book, one teacup and saucer, with my glasses precariously on my head or in a finger grasp. And suddenly my mind wanders, is diverted unexpectedly or I trip slightly. And the balancing act goes awry, usually to the floor or into the airspace. Without my glasses on, sometimes I'm not sure!

When doing that now, I 'try' to first imagine an unforeseen problem that might cause a fall, of all those things or my more fragile, useful body parts. This might seem a chore and time-consuming (what, 5 seconds?), but it's become a necessity to me.

The knife-stabbing incident nearly happened to me also, and now it never leaves the counter-top, slides right into the sink on it's way back to its block.

Also think of all these new issues of benefitting the brain with usage, dammit.

Interesting commentary. All three of my sisters have Kaiser and are not happy campers. I have a good albeit expensive plan but live 300 miles in any direction from major medical care. We do have a hospital but no neurologist. There's a couple about 75 miles from here as is my pulmonologist.

Yes, I drop things more. I have no fingerprints and the ends of my fingers these days are actually slick, no grooves and very dry skin. It's complicated by arthritis in my hands. My finger joints don't work properly and have tendon problems. I'm finally getting a cover for my steering wheel to keep my hands from slipping on that, meanwhile I wear driving gloves even in summer. And I really pay attention as do you Ronni to my grip on objects.

I read the headline as "Drooping Things in Old Age" and figured I'd find empathy with my own sagging bust, butt, and belly. Guess that's another column altogether!

This statement stands out: “Following on that, for the past few days I have been making a conscious effort to be sure ....” the operative word is “conscious.” For the past few years, and especially since my husband died, I try to be aware of my surroundings and actions, and where practical and appropriate, create habits and routines. When I remove my glasses, I always put them in the same place, likewise, keys and cellphone. When I use a credit card, I mentally note that I have put it back in my wallet. It the sidewalk is icy, I put on my boots, even if I’m just checking the mail. When I leave the house, I make sure certain things are unplugged/turned off, doors are locked and the garage door has shut. This sounds terribly picky, but just paying attention to my own actions has helped maintain the quality of my life.

I drop things. Rather, I reach, grasp and drop, usually quickly. Most of what I drop stays in the drawer. But I have dropped a knife on the floor. Yikes!

I haul iron skillets out of a drawer and onto a stovetop. I really pay attention when I do that.

So far, fingerprint ID works for me on my IPad, so I think I have something left on my fingertips. I suppose that is a sign that I should not enter a life of crime!

A big change for me is the loss of flesh on the palms of my hands. This is a harmless loss, I suppose, but I think it is weird.

I hope I will not be straying too far from today's "dropping things" topic with my comment. Speaking of hands and thinking of side effects from our medicines, it was last week that I was a bit surprised (to say the least) to experience a rather violently shaking hand...'twas something new and I pondered the change for quite a while until I located the drug info papers that had accompanied recently new prescriptions from the pharmacy. Lo and behold, trembling hands was a possible side effect of a script addressing my UTI.
Who knew ?

Well! Thanks to your understandable lack of energy you’ve shared a topic I would have otherwise missed.
A couple of comments:
My spouse has been experiencing shaking hands recently, and it turns out one of the simplest solutions is to be sure of keeping hydrated. Of course coffee, alcohol and tea don’t count. 😄
And thanks to other readers for tips on how to be more cognizant of our actions.
The manner in which I came across your wonderful blog, Ronni, was because I was looking for information on older folk and uncontrollable flatulence. Your telling of that tale led me to simply explain it as senior jet propulsion, something no longer in my control.
Take the best care of you Ronni. We want your blog to keep informing us as long as possible.

Oooh, Janet. Maybe slipping or sliding a tad off topic here again (Ronni, please forgive me, I am old) ~~ thank you for bringing up an F word, the one related to my oft embarrassment. I am somewhat grateful to know I am not alone.

I haven't noticed yet that I'm dropping things more often than usual. But it only takes one dropped knife to keep you on your toes. Fortunately I still have all ten of them. But I do have to pay a lot of attention to my meds -- some upon waking, some at lunch, some at dinner, some at bedtime. If it weren't for the 7-compartment pills boxes, I'd always be wondering if I took my pills this morning ... or was that yesterday morning? Last night, or the night before? My days tend to run together because they are all so much the same.

Ronni, your help to us all, and spirit are truly remarkable. Also most all of the comments are right on. Certainly aging is full of surprises. Sometimes we're on a fairly steady plateau and whoops! "Things fall apart." My right hand, with which I hold the mouse, and I am right handed, needs my attention more often now. I spend too much time at the computer as my email amount seems to grow like topsy. So, yes, I drop things, too. Sadly on the ceramic tiles of my kitchen floor glass stuff really shatters. So, if I could limit computer time it would be a good thing. Meanwhile, blessings to all of us.

Senior jet propulsion! Ha!

And Pat, you have just inspired me to start a file for current medication drug info pages.

At 79 I have noticed that this past year I do drop things more than ever before. My balance is OK but I attend yoga at least once a week and I walk everyday if possible to help with that.

This morning as I finished washing my hair in the kitchen sink, the towel I swung around my wet head hit a glass cup on the back of the sink sending it shattering into the sink,
onto the counter, and the floor....What a mess. I had to carefully scrape up the fragments of glass with a paper towel to protect my fingers, clean them out of the garbage disposal opening, and sweep the floor several times so that neither of us or the two cats would step on glass shards.

Re tablets and memory, so I can remember that I took my B Complex, glucosamine, and Vit. D in the morning, I marked the plastic container with an"O" for odd days, and turn it to back list of ingredients for the "even" days. One glance and I know if I took them or not.

I have arthritis in my hands so they get sore after chopping, cutting, pruning, and/or working on my art projects, but that's OK, "motion is lotion", use it or lose it. etc. I am grateful that I can still do those things, and still walk in my neighborhood unaided.

I don't know about everyone else, but if all you said was "Damn", you are the woman my mother (z"l) wanted for a daughter!

Well, Joan, it's just as likely I said something like #$%^&* - heh.

Oh yes! This rings a large bell with me! Have never seen anything written about this and was just about to dig deeper when your very welcome blog came in! Now I feel better about not only dropping things but also about losing my (what was never a very keen) sense of balance! No long ago, I leaned over to pick something up and when I stood up, I fell over backward for no obvious reason and got a broken wrist and a concussion! Since then, I either have my cane handy or my brand new walker ready to go with me when I leave the house. Just good precautions.

And now I am constantly within reach of my great picker upper (whatever the formal names is for these things). It's the neatest one I've ever seen. Even has a small magnet in one of the arms to get metal things off the floor. I ordered it online from a medical supply company. It is ever so much better built and handier than the less expensive commercial ones for the household to get things off the rug or down from a high shelf. It is mostly light weight metal and very strong. Manufacturer's marks says, "4109 Sammons Preston Rolyan 1-800-323-5547" in case you are interested.

In November I went on a three week holiday with my husband and family to Sth East Asia.
At Passport control I was a source of frustration for the officials as my finger prints did not show. They had me trying different fingers on both hands. Now I know why thanks to this blog post. I am 73 yr old female and until this holiday I thought I was pretty young and fit for my age. To find out I had no fingerprints was a bit horrifying.

Before I pick an egg out of the the carton, I have to moisten my fingers or the egg is likely to slip from them. Dry skin, smoother fingers, I think, but if my daughter saw me licking my fingers before picking up an egg......

By the way, Ronni, thanks for quoting one of Jane Seskin's poems in a recent column. Her book "Older, Wiser, Shorter" arrived just in time for my birthday. Too true, too funny, and so great that someone's saying all that stuff out loud.

Yes, lack of fingerprints is a condition I have. This came to light when I was being fingerprinted for a volunteer position through the police department. The background check was the same as for a police officer candidate, and I thought this one problem might throw me out of the running. However, they sent me to an office that still fingerprinted with ink rather than a digital screen. Then my fingerprints appeared.

As for balance and dropping things, I really surprised myself a few weeks ago. I had offered to help a friend, in her home, host a post funeral reception for her aunt. Wine was to be served, so I put the glasses (real glass, mind you) on a silver tray and maneuvered through the guests, offering wine. Didn't spill a drop or topple a glass. I was amazed at my ability to do that since I seem to drop things all the time. Someone mentioned being alert and cognizant to everything you do. It's true.

Essential tremor in my left hand causes occasional dropping and weakness problems, but if Charles Schultz could work through it and keep drawing Peanuts...well... I have to be careful to pay attention. Also, cutting down on caffeine, getting more sleep, trying not to stress, and not overdoing use of the hand - over exercising it.

As for the fingerprints, quilters and masons have had the problem of disappearing fingerprints for a long time.

These comments and the blog itself are such fun to read! Something like sharing a brief comment with a co-worker, or friend.

As to fingerprints, and dropping things... does anyone have a solution to how my once slim, now fat fingers can again work on the needlepoint projects I have enjoyed over the years?
Or how I can resume playing the piano since my fingers no longer bend properly?


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