Preventing falls is a priority for caregivers and families, and you make a good point about the importance of balance. Healthcare providers tend to focus on the falls, but sometimes overlook improving balance as a part of the equation. And because falls are one of the leading causes of injury and death in seniors, it is certainly worth a multifaceted approach to reduce the risk for our elderly population.
With age, people may be less active, and that decline in fitness can impact balance and mobility. Chronic conditions are also a culprit; blood pressure changes can make a senior lightheaded when standing, diabetes can make it difficult to feel the floor underfoot, Parkinson’s disease can make seniors unsteady, and arthritis brings pain and inflammation that may limit movement. Side effects from medication for these and other concerns can include dizziness, presenting another factor that seniors may need to overcome. Combine these issues with impaired vision that may also go along with aging, and you can see how elderly people may be more likely to fall than other populations. For most seniors, it’s not a matter of if, it’s more a question of when.
Take It Slow
Two forms of exercise that are known for improving balance are also low impact and tend to go at a slower pace: tai chi and yoga. Water aerobics is another good option to build strength and improve mobility while still taking it easy on joints. Dancing can also be beneficial, especially if it emphasizes fun, easy movements for any ability level. All these types of exercise may be helpful for seniors with coordination issues, such as Parkinson’s, to improve control of movement as well as balance. If your loved one is mobile, you may want to encourage him or her to give these fitness options a try, or better yet, join the class yourself. As people age, their balancing abilities may decline, so pretty much everyone should work to maintain strength and stability.
Working From Home
Maybe attending a class isn’t something that your senior can do, and that’s okay. He or she can still work on balance with easy at-home exercises. Having you, another family member, or a caregiver there to supervise and help if needed can help with improving balance without creating a new fall risk. Here are several recommended exercises to try:
- Sit-to-stand – Exactly as it sounds, your senior should carefully and deliberately practice standing from a seated position and lowering back to sitting to build leg strength
- Heel-toe walking – try to walk a straight line by lining your feet up, one after the other and stepping carefully; also referred to as tightrope walking
- Shifting weight from side to side – this can be done while holding onto something or just standing
- Standing on one leg – begin by holding on to a chair or other stable surface and balancing on one foot, then the other; try to build up the amount of time balancing or not using a support
- Cobblestone walking – okay, you may not have cobblestones in your home, but the idea is to walk on uneven surfaces; this option should not be attempted by seniors who require assistive devices or are unsteady
Most of theses simple movements can be performed without special equipment or a home gym, so no excuses! Make them a regular part of you and your loved one’s routine.
Physical therapy is another excellent resource for improving balance. Most seniors can benefit from the knowledge and equipment that physical therapists offer, but you may need to see a physician for a referral. With gear such as balance boards, mini-trampolines, and graduated elevations to mimic steps at home and other real-life settings. A physical therapist may also be able to work with your senior to learn how to safely fall (by protecting heads and limbs) and how to get up without assistance if alone.
Balance exercises, paired with a healthy diet rich in vitamin D for strong bones and muscles, may go a long way to preventing falls or possibly the severity of injuries if a fall occurs. Be sure to consider the home environment as well to reduce clutter and other fall risks for a safer environment. Hopefully, these tips can keep your loved one on his feet and doing well.