Member to Member: Guidelines for Seniors

As divers get older, DAN® recommends getting annual physicals, staying active and fit, diving within physical limits and avoiding difficult or dangerous diving conditions.

There is little concrete advice for seniors, however, about planning routine dives. At age 61 I had a serious case of cerebral decompression illness (DCI) after a relatively benign dive. Following that experience, I developed my own rules to reduce my risk of DCI, and since 2011 I have made 1,600 more dives, all without incident. Some of my personal rules may be helpful as guidelines or suggestions for other older divers. 

  • I like to be at 40 feet or shallower no later than 40 minutes into the dive. I often spend another 30-40 minutes underwater. 
  • Unless there is something very special to see, I rarely dive much deeper than about 80 feet. I limit my bottom time at depth and use the balance of the dive to relax and offgas.
  • My safety-stop routine is pretty extreme, but I actually love the view from near the surface. My dive computer recommends a three-minute stop at 18-20 feet. After that, I do two minutes at 15 feet and two more at 10 feet. I usually spend a final two minutes getting to the surface. The process takes about 10 minutes and accounts for nearly half of the eagle rays I see. I always deploy a safety sausage to the surface before I begin my ascent.
  • For any dive deeper than 60 feet, I do a one-minute stop at half the maximum depth (a “deep stop”).
  • I always use nitrox 32 (32 percent oxygen) if I am doing more than two dives per day or diving deeper than 80 feet for 10 minutes. 
  • You get older, you get colder. I typically wear a 7 mm wetsuit and a 3 mm hooded vest in Cozumel, and I typically wear a drysuit in Canada. Sufficient thermal protection is one of the easiest protective steps you can take. 
  • I realistically assess the stress associated with photography. If the conditions are rough, if there is a strong current or if I’m tired, I take a break from my camera. I love to dive — everything else is secondary. 

One enjoyable outcome of these guidelines has been a newfound interest in reef corals, creatures and fish, and that interest has facilitated my commitment to adhering to the guidelines. I study marine-life-identification guides and use my time in the shallows to find new creatures. I’ve developed an appreciation for slender filefish, tunicates, sea slugs, zoanthids, shrimps, gorgonians and whatever other fish or creatures pass in front of my eyes. And the light is always better near the surface.

I plan to do another 1,500 dives in the next few years. Although divers can’t completely eliminate their risk of DCI, I will follow my rules on each of those dives to keep my risk to a minimum.

© Alert Diver — Q4 2017