Just Clumsy, or Something Serious?
Experts explain when being clumsy is a sign of medical trouble, or just plain klutziness.
Steps to Cut the Risk of Falls
Perhaps the ultimate in clumsiness is actually losing your balance and
falling down. If you or an aging parent frequently trips or falls, take it
seriously. Falls can cause permanent disability, and many are preventable.
According to the CDC, a few simple steps can reduce the risk of falls:
1. Begin a regular exercise program. Exercise increases strength and
balance. Your doctor can help you design an effective program for your level of
2. Make your home safer by taking actions like these:
- Take all clutter off stairs.
- Turn lights on when you get up to use the bathroom at night.
- Tape down the edges of rugs with double-sided tape.
- Have handrails placed on all staircases, and put grab bars in shower
3. Ask your doctor to review your medicines. "Many medicines have dizziness as a side effect, and this can
certainly contribute to falls or clumsiness," says Erica Duncan, MD,
associate professor of psychiatry at the Veterans Administration Medical Center
in Decatur, Ga. If you suspect side effects from your medications, discuss this
with your doctor to confirm and see what alternatives are available.
4. Have your vision checked. You may have a treatable vision problem like cataracts or glaucoma -- or just need a new prescription.
Clumsiness: When It's Serious
When does clumsiness merit a trip to the doctor? The answer is -- whenever
you think there might be a problem. We asked Harrison about three real-life
cases of clumsiness; all were patients of this writer over the last three
years. Their names have been changed. Do you see yourself in any of these
A Keyed-Up Programmer
Dave, a 25-year-old computer programmer, felt the heat at work. He said
deadlines made him klutzy, and he felt like he was knocking something over
every time he turned around. This also happened the last time he had a big
Diagnosis: routine life stress.
"It's important to remember that simple things like lack of sleep,
skipping meals, or stressful situations might affect our dexterity," says
Harrison. Taking care of ourselves when times get tough is the best medicine
for this brand of the butterfingers.
High Sugar, Clumsy Feet
Arvind, 52, has lived with diabetes for almost 15 years. Sometimes he
controlled his blood glucose levels tightly; other times, he let it slip. But
Arvind noticed more and more that he was tripping on rugs and the edges of
stairs. He also felt that it was harder to keep his balance at night.
Diagnosis: nerve damage caused by diabetes.
"Peripheral neuropathy is a disease of nerves
associated with sensory loss in the hands and feet, and can affect
coordination," according to Harrison. Tight control of blood sugar is
essential for diabetes patients to avoid this complication, which can lead to
serious foot ulcers.