ST. GEORGE — Rick Craiggs is an accomplished golfer. He’s hit six holes-in-one in his lifetime.
"There's something magical about when you hit the golf ball just the way it's supposed to be hit. It's pretty addicting,” said the 72-year-old.
But last year, one accidental fall in his garage changed everything. Craiggs caught his toe in the doormat and fell to the floor. He tried to get up, but immediately panicked.
"And once I got upright, I couldn't walk. I couldn't move my legs,” Craiggs said.
The fall caused a severe back injury requiring spinal fusion surgery. He spent about a month in acute rehab.
"I was so sure that I was never going to golf again. I gave up my membership," Craiggs said.
After he was discharged from rehab, Craiggs started outpatient therapy at Dixie Regional Outpatient Neuro Rehabilitation center. He showed up in a wheelchair, had very poor balance and was at a high risk for falling.
"The first day here I could not stand up out of a chair," Craiggs said. "I was just shaking."
But through a lot of hard work, he made remarkable progress.
“The second week I came to therapy… with a walker, the third week, I came with my hiking poles. The fourth week, I came carrying my hiking poles; and the fifth week, I left everything home and came solo,” Craiggs said.
Intermountain Healthcare’s balance therapist Arndreke Armstrong said falling is common for seniors.
"They've become deconditioned, their reaction or the response time is slowed down, so they're not able to catch themselves quickly enough. They end up on the floor and that leads to injury and, in some cases, can lead to death," he explained.
But fortunately, Craiggs’ active lifestyle made for a quick recovery.
Armstrong encourages older people to stay active and to participate in some sort of fitness program or strength training. “One of the best things you can do is walk ... just make that a regular part of your daily routine," he said.
Within two months, Craiggs was walking on his own, participating in his favorite activities again like tending to his cactus garden, driving his show cars, and getting back on the golf course.
Armstong said the subsequent injuries from a fall can sometimes be deadly. He encourages people experiencing regular falls to see a balance therapist for an evaluation, especially for patients with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, vertigo, or people recovering from a stroke, brain injury or spinal cord injury.