Atlanta, GA,
06:45 AM

My Best Advice for Aging Well with Spinal Cord Injury

By James Shepherd
Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder, Shepherd Center

As many of Shepherd Center’s first patients have begun to age with spinal cord injuries, I am reminded of my own journey, beginning with my rehabilitation experience in the 1970s.

Those of us who rehabbed in the ‘70s and ‘80s will remember that most of the focus then was on regaining as much functional independence as possible – with little attention on exercise and a healthy lifestyle to promote lifelong wellness. Clinicians and researchers then knew little about aging with spinal cord injury (SCI).

Today, much of the improvement in rehabilitation care has been gleaned from what we have discovered about people who have aged with SCI. In the ‘90s, we saw the first shift toward maximizing the short-term goals of independence and incorporating long-term healthy habits, such as exercise and diet. This shift was largely based on data gathered by the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA), whose headquarters have been here at Shepherd Center since 2006, and people like James Krause, Ph.D., who have dedicated their careers to the study of SCI and aging.

Lesley Hudson, M.A., executive director of ASIA and co-project director of the Southeastern Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System (SCIMS) at Shepherd Center and, provides some insight into the improvements in outcomes over the past few decades in this Shepherd Center Newsroom article.

For decades, Shepherd Center has been a leader in spinal cord injury research, incorporating research with therapy and patient care. Instead of relying only on the traditional research approach of publishing results in professional journals, Shepherd researchers have been housed within the patient care areas and collaborating with clinicians. This has led to real-time innovations in therapy.

As for advice on aging well with spinal cord injury, this Shepherd Center Newsroom article shares the stories of three former patients injured more than 15 years ago. All three are living fulfilling lives post-injury and continuing to push themselves toward new goals. They also offer advice, along with our experts, about how to live a healthy life post-injury (Download PDF).

From my own experience of living with a spinal cord injury for four decades now – and from watching others around me with SCI live successful, happy and healthy lives – my No. 1 piece of advice is to seek and maintain relationships with other people with spinal cord injury. Receiving advice from people who are traveling the same road as you is invaluable. As good as we are at Shepherd Center at providing education and advice for long-term care, the people who are living their daily lives with their injury are probably the richest resource for what truly works. Knowing this, Shepherd Center continues to provide peer support services to patients and stresses them as an integral part of rehabilitation. For more information, see

James Shepherd is chairman of the board and co-founder of Shepherd Center. James and his parents, Harold and Alan Shepherd, founded Shepherd Center in 1975 after James completed a long rehabilitation for a paralyzing spinal cord injury he sustained in a bodysurfing accident in 1973. Today, Shepherd Center is a nationally ranked rehabilitation hospital for people with spinal cord and brain injury.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.