Healthy Aging with Spinal Cord Injury

Original Editor - Kehinde Fatola

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Aging, like other processes along the path of life affects everyone. However, aging encompasses almost all other life processes which makes its knowledge very important especially in people living with disabilities.

Aging healthfully is very important in patients with spinal cord injury as aging tends to set in earlier in earlier than in the population without the injury. [1] Aging is a complex life process related to various variables such as environmental, psychological, physical and lifestyle factors. [2]

Generally, body systems lose their functionalities with age. [3] The degree of this loss however vary with each person. Aging in patients with spinal cord injury is based on some factors including; [4]

  • Level and severity of injury
  • Age at injury
  • Family health history
  • Lifestyle behaviors; activity levels, smoking, alcohol use  and diet
  • Access to community services and social supports.

Aging in patients with spinal cord injury, just like population without the injury is related to the various factors such as cardiovascular, metabolic, pulmonary, skin, bowel and bladder changes among others. [5]

There can be an overall healthful aging after spinal cord injury by; [5][6][7]

  • Keeping your weight down.
  • Improving your diet—decrease sugars and simple carbohydrates, decrease fat and cholesterol while improving on fibre intake.
  • Keep moving; increase physical activity in your day.
  • Periodic medical evaluation of various body systems.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Get a flu shot annually and a pneumovax vaccine every five to seven years.
  • Stay physically active.
  • Take deep breaths to keep the chest expanded.
  • Treat sleep apnea if appropriate.
  • Perform daily skin checks for unusual changes.
  • Review seating regularly with a physical therapist.
  • Modify your diet to get adequate protein, vitamin C and zinc.
  • Protect yourself from sun exposure.
  • Keep your shoulders strong and make sure your wheelchair propulsion technique is safe and efficient.
  • Transition to power mobility early, but keep exercising.
  • Avoid overhead reaching.
  • Avoid sleeping on your shoulder.
  • Stretch front shoulder muscles and strengthen back shoulder muscles.
  • Sit upright with shoulders pulled back.
  • Cultivate your passions.
  • Choose fun activities that keep you flexible and fit.
  • Plan activities so you always have something to look forward to.
  • Cultivate enriching long term relationships.
  • Look into your environment and ensure you are not trapped, this may require few modifications in your home or moving to a new environment.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Spinal Injuries Association. Aging Well With SCI. Available from; (accessed 27/12/2020)
  2. Frontera JE, Mollett P. Aging with spinal cord injury: an update. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2017; 28(4): 821–828.
  3. Pili R. Gaviano L, Pili L, Petretto DR. Ageing, Disability, and Spinal Cord Injury: Some Issues of Analysis.Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research.2018
  4. Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC). Aging and SCI. Available from: (accessed 27/12/2020)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Friedly J. Healthy Aging After Spinal Cord Injury. Available from: (accessed on 27/12/2020)
  6. Gerhart KA, Bergstrom E, Charlifue SW. Long-term spinal cord injury: functional changes over time. Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 1993: 74(10):0­103-4.
  7. Whiteneck GG, Charlifue SW, Frankel HL. Mortality, morbidity, and psychosocial outcomes of persons spinal cord injured more than 20 years ago. Paraplegia. 1992 ;30 (9):617-630.