The Universe Decides That, Not Me

Friday Blog Post – A Blast From the Past

Yesterday afternoon, I felt more tired than usual so I laid down for a short nap. I guess I was more tired than I thought because I didn't wake until past dinner time.

That wouldn't generally be a problem except that I had planned to spend the afternoon writing today's blog post.

You know how you feel sometimes after a heavy sleep? That you're not even sure where the bathroom is and coherent thought will take awhile? That was me. So you get a rerun today, a repeat story.

Although this post is more than four years old, it has been the number one most read post over the past two months. I have no idea why or how people found it, but there are you are.

It is titled, Have You Been Dropping More Things as You Get Older?, first published on 25 January 2016.

* * *

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?


I have become more conscious about my hands as I reach for things, picking up heavy items and stretching out my fingers because they feel stiff. It seems reasonable that the thinning skin, less blood flow and less muscle strength cause problems. It helps to realize the small changes that happen and be aware. I wonder if it is the same for feet.

The science on fingerprints getting more faded with age must be why Global Entry sometimes failed to recognize mine at airport kiosks (not that this will be an issue for me anytime soon). Would also say that my dropping items is on the upswing. Try to be careful--especially when knives are involved. Phone is in a crash-proof case with an additional heavy duty screen cover. Funnily enough, it is one item I rarely drop.

I drop stuff too. I hate when it's silverware. There's a lot of old world superstition about what each piece means which I learned courtesy of my mother which she learned from her mother.. I particularly hate to drop a knife, am always relieved when it points away.

The really annoying thing that seems to occur lately is dropping food, sometimes on me, sometimes on the floor. I prefer it to drop to the floor. Then it's a quick pick-up and throw-out rather than how to remove a stain.

BTW I have a friend who goes by the 10 second rule. It's safe to eat if you pick it up right away.
Not so. I read once that a study had been done on that on different foods. Some picked up germs in only 2 seconds.

How about loosing the ability to turn one page at a time in a book, or separating loose paper notes?

I've noticed that, along with the rest of me, the fingertips are extremely dry, especially with the frequent hand-washing.

Now a new problem has cropped up, frequent small cracks in fingertips where it is almost impossible to put and keep on a bandage.

Years ago I overheard a hairstylist telling a client about a product used when they accidently nip their fingers: New Skin. I've ordered some (very inexpensive), but haven't tried it yet.

Yes, I am 73 and I drop things lot more than I used to. Part of it for me besides what you mentioned, is also increasing arthritis in my fingers, especially my thumbs. Harder to grip tightly anymore.

Hi Ronni,

You made the comment that you had no idea how people have been finding your four-year-old blog post over the past two months. The reason is that the phrase "Is it usual to be dropping more things as you get older" is a very common search phrase on Google, and wherever you search that question from anywhere in the world, your 2016 blog post comes out on top of 250 million other search results.

So I guess more people must be dropping things and more people are looking for reassurance that it's a normal sign of aging.

Yes, Ronni, that article about dropping was a very reassuring "aha" for me, as the process had started, and was mystifying. Just another area to which you brought light. Good to see it again.

Since I've been dropping things more often
I take the idiom of "losing my grip" literally.

Now I drink hot tea in porcelain cups that are designed with
ribbed silicone sleeves.

Recently saw small silicone bands I can stretch to
slip proof drinking glasses.

I struggle opening the thin plastic produce bags at the grocery.
eww, I've seen people spit on their fingers to get traction.

Instead of clumsily clawing bags open , I'm pleased to
discover finger moisteners and silicone finger pads available online.

As I'm told grip strength grows weaker as we age,
I'll practice PT hand and wrist exercises to improve muscle strength
and coordination.

Yup, I remember this post--agreed with it then and even more 4 years later. Nuisance, but it is what it is. (To Thea T., I've found that New Skin "liquid bandage" works great for small nicks and cuts.)

Yes, yes, and yes. And boy, does it piss me off! And it's far from new. I started noticing that I more frequently dropped my house keys before I was 65. Now, at almost 83, it's Frequent Fumble a lot of the time. Not amused.

And I was empathizing about your cat--we never hear about your cat! Who is it? Sex? Name? Age? I think it's okay--the paparazzi are probably not going to hound it down if you tell us.

But the cat reminds me of a sort of reverse story from when I was, oh, maybe in my early 40s: A late Saturday night, and I was walking across the kitchen holding two new bottles of shampoo and conditioner. My beloved Persian, Tribble, chose that moment to walk in front of me, and I lost my balance. Now, I did not want to fall on him. Also, I didn't want to break the two bottles. But they were plastic, and quite unbreakable. My lizard mind didn't remember that, and I held onto them as if they were Fabergé eggs while I fell forward, landing on my whole right side, from the breast on down. Knocked the wind out of me. Lay there gasping. Needless to say, Tribble was looking on in puzzlement, and I was just trying to breathe. I went to bed fairly soon after that, and right away noticed that it really hurt to breathe. Turned out I had cracked two ribs. Tribble and the hair products were just fine.

One more thing about that loss of finger sensitivity: I play classical piano, and I KNOW that I can't maintain the tempos I could a few decades ago. Sigh. There goes the Heroic Polonaise. I always wanted to learn it, and now I know I never will.

But there are plenty of other things I CAN still play, so I'd better focus on those!

Hi Ronni --I'm a 76 yr. old retiree and crafter. I worked for over 30 years using computers to type, do searches for library patrons, publishing a newsletter, and publishing a children's book. This was after learning to type on a manual typewriter which was replaced by an electric model, and then graduating to the computer. I have had two carpal tunnel surgeries, as well as surgery to correct "trigger thumbs." I sew, draw, crochet, and a lot of other craft pursuits. The bottom line is loss of feeling in my fingers contributes to me dropping things constantly. (I just can't tell if my grip is tight enough unless I drop things.) Carpal tunnel syndrome is seen in bus drivers, meat processors, jackhammer operators and many other occupations which combine gripping of vibrating steering wheels or power equipment. You have probably already discovered this on your own. I just wanted to let you know that are more of us who are constantly leaning over to pick up the things we've dropped.

Kate and others who have recently asked...

Ollie the cat died in 2018. He was a great companion for 14 years and I still miss him. I still think I hear him sometimes, strolling down the hall from the bedroom. Here is the last story about him.

O, there's Oliver Bennett!

Endearing last story and photos of Ollie you posted
after he died the 19th of this month in 2018.

Thanks for bringing him back today.

I fondly recall an earlier story (March 10, 2010) called Cat Tales
of a no longer winsome six year old who had nothin' on
Simon's cat (video).

Ollie the charming tyrant...and what big eyes he had!
The better to see you with my dear.

correction: Ollie...who had Somethin' on Simon's cat. Yes indeedy.

Hi Ronni.

This is exactly the post that brought me to your blog. At 53, I was concerned that I am dropping things more frequently. Your post helped me feel more "normal." I am so thankful to have found your blog. You tell me things that my mother did not have time to share. Thus, I am also saddened that you feel the end is neigh. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your journey with all of us.

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