It’s natural as we age that our senses sometimes lose a little bit of their sharpness. While many seniors concern themselves with loss of sight or loss of hearing, loss of balance can sometimes be the most debilitating sensory loss. Every year, one in three Americans over the age of 65 suffers some type of fall. Fall-related accidents can cause moderate to severe injuries in senior citizens, as well as increase their odds of early death. Staying active, especially while doing balance-building exercises, is the best way to avoid the risks associated with falls and fall-related injuries.
Factors that Contribute to Falls
At the same time, there are a number of factors that contribute to our loss of sense of balance. Beyond simply aging, the loss of muscle mass, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, low or high blood pressure, heart disease and some medications can also lead to decreased balance. For all these reasons, it is imperative that seniors take part in some kind of activity that helps maintain their balance, thereby maintaining their overall health.
Balance training can be as simple as some in-home exercises or walking with a walking cane, or as complex as either a tai chi or yoga program. Both tai chi and yoga are perfectly geared for seniors who wish to work on their balance. Both are slow-paced, low-impact exercises that don’t require a lot of equipment.
Tai Chi & Yoga
Studies show that tai chi reduces falls in seniors by a whopping 45 percent. While it works especially well for those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, anyone can reap the benefits of tai chi, which also include increased bone strength, joint stability, improved cardiovascular health, improved sense of well-being and overall immunity. The exercise is also easily scaled to a person’s ability level. There is zero impact on muscles and joints as a result of practicing tai chi, and students can start to practice it in a chair or wheelchair and still see benefits.
Yoga is another exercise that can be properly scaled to a person’s activity level, building confidence in your balance as well as building muscle and strengthening bones. It is important, though, when picking a yoga program, to find one geared to seniors. Yoga can put a bit more stress on a body than tai chi can, and can aggravate pre-existing conditions if care is not taken. Still, the benefits to practicing yoga for seniors looking to address balance issues are immense.
Other Balance-Improving Exercises
Even if tai chi or yoga are not your style, there are still exercises you can do in the home that can help keep your sense of balance intact and reduce the fear of falling. These exercises are best done with an armless chair for support assistance and smooth-bottom shoes.
- Standing on one foot
- Heel-to-toe walk
- Balance walk
- Back leg raises
- Side leg raises
One of the biggest predictors of a future fall for seniors can be a previous fall. The fear of falling again can make a person more susceptible to it happening again as they curtail their physical activity in an attempt to limit the chance they may fall. For this reason, even simply walking can increase your sense of balance and remove the fear of falling.
Helping someone get over the fear of falling can be as simple as introducing a walking cane into their everyday life. Walking with an aid such as a walking cane can give you a greater sense of security when you are on your feet. When properly used, a cane can help restore a person’s freedom and independence, as well as limit the chance of further falls. For those recovering from a serious injury that may have required them to use a walker or wheelchair, a walking cane can also be an important bridge between their use and the freedom to walk without one again.
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