According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans aged 65+ fall each year, and a majority of these falls directly relate to balance problems. Far too often, frequent falling is a factor for seniors as they make the tough decision to move from their homes to assisted living or nursing homes. To beat the statistic and prevent falls, it’s important to be aware of what can cause balance problems and how the body’s balance system works.
As we age, our physiologic capacity declines. Over the years we may experience changes in vision, hearing, strength, alignment, coordination, muscles, joints, circulation, sensation and overall health. Any one of these issues can affect how well we maintain balance.
The Vestibular Disorder Association describes balance as a mixture of your visual and sensory system (eyes and sensation), your proprioception system (muscles and joints) and your vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation) working together. If one of these isn’t working properly, then you’re off balance – and this puts you at the risk of falling.
There are several things we can do to maintain our physical ability and prevent falls. Two factors that can have a major impact on balance are medications and exercise.
According to a recent study, “Nearly 3 in 5 American adults take a prescription drug.” We suggest reviewing your medications for side effects, specifically ones that can impact your balance. The following common side effects are important to be on the lookout for vision changes, dizziness, drowsiness, vertigo, paresthesia, and lightheadedness. Be aware of drug interactions as well, which can cause negative and unwanted effects. It’s noted here, “older adults are especially vulnerable because drugs are absorbed and broken down differently as people age.” This is why ElderCareSmart strongly recommends periodic medication review with your physician. Your pharmacist can also be a great resource for checking drug contraindications.
Exercise for Seniors
Living an active lifestyle is important, especially if the balance is a concern. Following are several activities we recommend to help maintain stability, strength and decrease the risk of falls:
- Tai Chi
- Physical Therapy
- Aerobic Exercise
- Targeted weight lifting with supervision
ElderCareSmart is a huge fan of Tai Chi. It is a mix of meditation, exercise, and movement with a focus on balance. If it’s practiced regularly, it can help strengthen muscles and bone density, stretch the spine, improve balance and boost your body’s immune system. Harvard Women’s Health recently found that “Tai Chi helps improve balance because it targets all the physical components needed to stay upright—leg strength, flexibility, the range of motion, and reflexes—all of which tend to decline with age.”