By Breanna Walker, Marketing Department,
All of us have experienced moments of dizziness or unsteadiness from time to time. Occasionally losing your footing or tripping is a part of life. However, for some seniors, balance problems can become more than an infrequent nuisance. As we age, various physical and lifestyle changes make us more prone to experience a lack of balance. In fact, these balance issues contribute to the large number of falls seen in senior populations. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of injuries in older Americans. Each year, one in four older adults will experience a fall. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes an older adult dies as the result of a fall. In addition to physical injury from a fall, there is less obvious psychological damage. The fear of falling can have a dramatically negative impact on one’s life. Older adults may restrict their physical activities and social outings in order to avoid falls, which can cause a sense of isolation. A decrease in physical activity can exacerbate existing conditions and lead to weaker muscles and even poorer balance. The lack of social involvement can lead to emotional issues, including depression. Although balance problems and falls represent a significant challenge, there are many ways to recognize the contributing factors and take steps to improve balance and lessen the risk of a fall.
According to Harvard Medical School, some of the age-related changes that contribute to balance problems are: inner ear problems (including vertigo), vision problems, numbness (neuropathy) in feet and legs, arthritis, circulation problems, neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and even side effects of various medications. Of course, if you are experiencing significant problems with balance or have significant concerns about falling, talk to your doctor. However, there are some steps you can take now to improve your balance and make falls less likely.
- Have your vision checked regularly. If it’s been a while since your last appointment with the eye doctor, it may be time to considering making one. Vision problems can make it difficult for you to see obstacles in your path and make a fall more likely. Seek treatment for conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration, or cataracts before they compromise your vision. Also, make sure to have adequate lighting in your home.
- Ask your doctor and pharmacist to go through your list of medications with you. Ensure that none of your medication are interacting to cause dizziness. It is always helpful to be aware of potential side effects. It may be possible to switch medications or reduce the dosage of drugs that are known to cause balance problems.
- Pay attention while you are walking. Do not read or look at your cell phone. Try to reserve any conversations until you can sit down.
- Make sure you have the proper shoes. Shoes should fit well, have a low heel or no heel, and have sturdy soles.
- Be careful when standing up from a sitting or reclining position. Standing up too fast can lead to a drop in blood pressure that can cause dizziness.
- Drink enough water. Dehydration is a common cause of dizziness in older adults, and many of us find it challenging to drink adequate water as we age. In addition to drinking various beverages, try to eat foods that are high in water content, such as soup, watermelon, and various vegetables.
- Exercise can be very helpful. A combination of different types of exercise is most effective. These include aerobic exercise, strength training, and exercises to increase flexibility. Start out by walking and then advance to climbing stairs or riding a bike to increase your lower body strength. Yoga is a great way to improve balance and strength. Also, joining a tai chi class may be beneficial. Tai chi is an ancient practice made up of slow movements, and according to Harvard Medical School, has been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of falls in older adults. Before starting any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.
- In addition to a general exercise program, try these exercises that are specifically proven to improve balance:
-Be Aware of Your Posture: Stand up straight with your shoulders even and a neutral spine. Pull your abdominal muscles in so that your core is engaged. Healthy posture centers your weight over your feet and contributes to good balance.
-Heel Raises: Hold onto the back of a chair with both hands and stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. Lift up on your toes. Hold and then lower your heels to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
-Standing Side Leg Lifts: Stand straight behind a chair, holding the back of the chair with both hands. Slowly lift your right leg straight out to the side, about 6 inches off the floor. Hold and then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on each side.
-Sit-To-Stands: Stand tall with your back to a sturdy chair and your feet hip-width apart. Sit back and slowly lower your hips onto the chair as gently as possible. Pause, and without swinging your torso, push into your heels to stand. Repeat 10 times. You may need to hold onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. As you get stronger, perform the move without holding onto anything.
-Single Leg Stands: Stand straight with feet hip-width apart. Lift one foot an inch off the floor while keeping your torso straight and without leaning toward your planted foot. Hold for 10-15 seconds and slowly return your foot to the floor. Repeat on the opposite leg. Perform 5 stands on each leg. At the beginning you may need to hold onto something sturdy, but as your strength improves, try the move without holding onto anything.
Although balance problems and the risk of falling are significant concerns for seniors, there are many things we can do to stay healthy and safe! Being proactive and taking steps to ensure your health can grant both you and your loved ones peace of mind.