Lawrene Kovalenko radiates a youthful demeanor. She is open-minded and accepts change by the process of understanding how things are, how things could be, then adapting, to make the transition. She is one of the youngest 85-year-olds I’ve ever met. As a neuroscientist, occupational therapist and artist, Lawrene uses her professional frames-of-reference to maintain a positive mind-set, counteracting potential psychological and physical limitations.
She practices three simple principles to stay youthful:
- Be as open-minded and as curious as a child
- Follow your passions (especially from youth)
- Remain active and up-right
Lawrene knows these principles are only possible by being adaptable; creating an environment that adapts to one’s needs and/or utilizing the right tools to let one adapt to an existing environment.
Last year, when experiencing mobility problems, Lawrene visited us at SideStix. Her goal was to figure out a better way to stay up-right, balanced and moving smoothly. As a neurologist, Lawrene knows the only way the sensory systems remain “on line” is to use them. Our sense of ‘body in space’, balance, coordination and smooth movements are activated and improved, when walking. Lawrene trialed a variety of SideStix models with different grips and forearm configurations. She eventually decided upon the SideStix Discovery with a trough-forearm weight bearing system, to avoid undo pressure on her arthritic hands and wrists. Lawrene stood taller, walked more smoothly and confidently (see video below). She then returned to her cabin in the woods and reassumed her passions; combing the local beaches for drift wood to carve, collecting interesting rocks to slice and gardening… often sharing these experiences with her grandson.
You could say Lawrene has always been an outlier… accepting challenges as ‘opportunities to problem-solve’, aging being no different. I asked Lawrene, “Do crutches symbolize old age to you?” She replied, “I am dependent on SideStix for the rest of my life and I’m happy about it.”
And why not?! SideStix give Lawrene the freedom to maintain her up-right posture and pursue her youthful passions. There is nothing old about being happier and more mobile.
What is your definition of ‘defy convention’?
Defying convention is doing anything that’s out of the ordinary. And almost everything I do defies convention because I don’t live in a house on a normal street. I live in a garden, basically. I would say that I don’t even know what convention is like because I’ve never been conventional in my life.
What challenges your mobility?
One of the things that challenges my mobility the most is climbing and descending steps that have no railing. Another one is walking almost anywhere in the dark, or outside in the rain. Walking more than thirty or forty feet without a place to sit down can be very challenging. Standing still for more than even a minute is extremely challenging. Walking up and down uneven ground, for example, in my garden, is very challenging without my SideStix to help me. It’s easy for me to feel threatened because my vestibular system is not necessarily back online, and because of my age, I’m not sure if it will every be where it was several years ago.
How do your SideStix help you stay active and mobile?
I’m an occupational therapist, and I’ve been trained to work with children with neurological disabilities. But as I’ve been aging and especially recently when my hips began to get too arthritic and I lost my mobility, I realized how important areas of our nervous system are. For example, proprioception: Information comes from our muscles and tells our brain where our body is in space. Without SideStix, I really have trouble navigating my visual world, and the hills and lumps. I can’t see because my vestibular ocular system is offline. But I’m not worried, and I don’t get scared, because my SideStix give me a sense of safety.
One example is getting in and out of the car. I used to just jump in and out of the car, but now that my visual motor system is challenged because my hip mobility is reduced, I can bump myself, and I used to bash my shins . Now that I’ve gotten used to organizing myself in space with the help of my SideStix, that organization is keeping me from bashing my shins. It’s helpful for me to understand why, to know that I’m not just an aging idiot, and getting old and feeble. It’s more that my loss of mobility is reducing my ability to perceive objects in space, including where I am in space. SideStix have helped me reorganize my brain so that my motor planning is way better than it used to be.
What are your passions?
One of my passions in life is carving wood. I have wood all over the house. Another one is collecting rocks and slicing them up to look at them. These involve walking around on the beach and climbing up and down beach rocks. Another passion is reading neuroscience, and making drawings of how we work mechanically.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My idea of a perfect day is getting up in the morning and feeing good because I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and being able to go outside and go in the garden. If it’s a beautiful day, and I know the tide is low, I can jump in my car and drive to the beach. I can climb over all the driftwood, walk around on the sand, and collect rocks. I love climbing around on uneven surfaces, and I’m not afraid of falling down because take my SideStix everywhere I go. I can explore the beach as long as I want. I can put a sack around my neck and carry things back home, and climb back over the driftwood and have had a great day with my dog, and sometimes my grandson. Every single day I want to do much more than I’m able to do in the given amount of time I have to stay awake!
What is your favourite thing about SideStix?
My favourite thing about SideStix is their adaptability. Because of my genetics, I lost a lot of muscle in my hands, and so I was unable to use a normal grip. When I got up to Canada, my SideStix were adapted so that I can lean on my forearm for stability, and I don’t have to use my thumbs at all. I feel that SideStix have really saved my life. They’ve given me the ability to enter life again, and not just stay home and be a crippled old lady.
What is your message for other crutch users?
My message for anybody who’s using any kind of crutches is to keep using them, and stay as mobile as possible. Anybody who gets used to sitting around or using a wheelchair or anything is actually shortening their life in a way, because they’re reducing the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that maps the outer world. You want to keep that active. You want to go places, challenge yourself, and keep pushing to do new things, and you can’t do that without using crutches and other devices. I would say for me, SideStix has been a miraculous change because I’d be unable to use normal crutches. SideStix have given me the ability to keep moving, and keep going back to the beach and climbing over driftwood. My SideStix have really given me back my life.