The older we get, the more difficulties we have with balance. Sometimes it’s because of changes in our eyesight; other times it can be caused by medication side effects, or the result of a loss of strength. Taking steps to help parents improve balance is essential, especially for the elderly. Not only will it help them live longer, but improved balance will also help people to live a healthier and more active life.
Without balance, we have a hard time staying on a steady course. Most importantly, improved balance helps to keep us from falling. This is good news, because falling can create a whole host of problems, including injury and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a third of all people over the age of 65 fall, each year; it’s the leading cause of injury for this age group.
One of the biggest problems with older people falling is hip fractures. The CDC reports that, in the year 2004 alone, over 320,000 people were hospitalized for hip fractures, and 90% of those fractures were caused by falls. Most people with hip fractures end up staying in the hospital for at least a week; 25% of those who lived independently before their fracture spend at least a year in a nursing home and 20% die within a year of sustaining the injury.
Luckily, there are a lot ways people can improve balance. The first step toward doing so is to find something that works for each person and then help them stick with it. Speak with the person’s physician if balance problems are being caused by medication. According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some good options for improving balance:
- Balance Exercises. Routinely doing exercise of any kind can lead to better balance. Balance exercises that require moving arms and legs in coordination, such as walking, are especially helpful for improving balance.
- Leg Balance Practice. While you may not think about balancing, practicing it can help. While using support, such as a chair, practice standing on one leg at a time to practice balancing and building strength in each leg.
- Training. Seek the help and guidance of a physical therapist or personal trainer to help with balance. They can provide a variety of movements that will all help.
- Strengthening. Doing exercises that build strength will also lead to improved balance. Working out each week with some light weights (one to two pounds) will help build muscles and stronger bones. Stretching and improving flexibility are also good ways to help improve balance.
- Classes. Look to a local community center to find classes being offered in Tai Chi. This gentle form of martial arts is a very effective tool in improving balance. The American Journal of Public Health agrees about the benefits of Tai Chi. In a July 2008 research study, they tested the practice and found it to be a proven fall intervention. Another study done at Emory University found that special Tai Chi movements done by seniors reduced the risk of multiple falls by 47%.
According to Dr. Mary Tinetti, a leading researcher in fall intervention at Yale University, to reduce risk of falling, should be tested for vision problems, osteoporosis, neuropathy in the feet, muscle weakness, blood pressure problems that occur when moving from lying to standing, vestibular (inner ear) dysfunction, and, above all, adverse drug effects, all of which can be risk factors for a fall. Additionally, you should look around your parents’ home to see if changes need to be made to improve upon safety. It’s important that homes be safe zones that do not lead to falls and injury. Improving balance for the elderly is possible, and it’s essential to maintaining good health.