Do You Know Where Your Limbs Are?

One of the annoyances of being over 60 — and it can range from trivial all the way to fatal — is that your arms and legs aren’t always where you expect them to be.

Maybe you’re walking. Maybe you’re opening a cupboard or setting down a hot casserole. At a certain moment, your brain sends a rapid and highly coordinated stream of messages to your muscles, exactly as it has been doing for years — but then, in the blink of an eye, something bad happens.

Any of a number of things might cause a malfunction. Maybe the brain module responsible for sending the stream of messages got a little mixed up and sent them in the wrong order, or failed to send one of them at all. Or maybe the limb didn’t move the way it usually does. That could happen because a joint is a little stiff or the muscle tissues don’t have quite enough blood flow for the cells to contract energetically. Maybe the limb moved flawlessly, but your torso wasn’t oriented at the angle you thought it was, or the object you were trying to manipulate wasn’t quite where your brain thought it was. Maybe the module in your brain that’s supposed to monitor feedback from the limb during the procedure was taking a little nap, so the feedback messages never got to the module that was sending the messages to the muscles.

For whatever reason, you have an oops.

This morning I jammed my little finger coming out the door of the gym. For no reason whatever. I had pushed open the door, and I was stepping past/around the door, but my hand didn’t completely clear the doorframe as I swung around it. Oops.

That was minor. A friend of mine recently had an oops while walking around the corner of his vintage sports car, which was parked in the garage. His calf swung in a little too close to the sharp edge of the fender. The fender laid open a flap of skin, and he had to be rushed to the hospital.

You want to know why that old lady is driving 45 in the slow lane? It’s because she needs to go somewhere in her car. She doesn’t want to have an oops while behind the wheel. Far from being pissed off, you should be grateful that she knows how to be careful.

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