Balancing Act: The Importance of Maintaining Your Equilibrium as You Age

To quote Denver Post columnist William Porter, “Life is all about attaining balance, we are told. That becomes literally true as we age.”

One of the “first things to go” as we get older is our balance. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than one in three people ages 65 years or older falls each year. The risk of falling – and fall-related problems – rises with age. Each year, more than 1.6 million older U.S. adults go to the emergency room for fall-related injuries. Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury-related deaths. By preventing balance problems and working to improve remaining ability, senior adults can improve their quality of life and reduce crippling injuries.

Loss of Balance Can Also Cause Loss of Confidence

In addition to placing us at greater risk of falls and injury, loss of balance can also affect our self-confidence and our self-esteem. Many older Americans have a fear of falling. This fear becomes more prominent as people age, even among those who haven't experienced a fall. Sadly, this fear may lead older individuals to avoid activities such as walking, shopping, or taking part in social activities – all of which are highly beneficial to both their physical and emotional health.

Increasing Age = Greater Balance Challenges

In the article, “Balance and Fall Risk Change as We Age,” Dr. William Gage, a professor of biomechanics and behavioral neuroscience, states, “The risk of falling increases dramatically as we get older. There are likely many reasons why this is – including changes in sensory information, changes in the way the brain process information and changes in the way the muscles perform – but the end result of these changes is that we become more unstable as we get older.” 

Fortunately, there is scientific evidence to indicate that you can do things to decrease your risk of experiencing a loss of balance. Exercise programs that include a balance component have been conclusively shown to decrease the risk of falling. Generally, exercise programs will include muscle strengthening, endurance exercises and flexibility exercises (stretching). However, most important for decreasing fall risks are exercises that challenge your balance. 

Tips for Maintaining Your Balance as You Age

According to Charlotte L. Shupert, Ph.D. at the Vestibular Disorders Association, older adults can improve their overall health and fitness, specifically their balance, by participating in low-impact sports such as aerobics, yoga, tai chi, pilates or water aerobics. Other, more active sports such as tennis, biking, walking, weight training or bowling can also improve balance by strengthening muscles and joints and improving posture. An activity such as ballroom dancing requires both good body awareness and hand-eye coordination, so it can improve balance skills as well.

In his article,Do These Exercises to Maintain Balance as You Age,”  William Porter also shares some useful advice from experts on balance-enhancing exercises. These include:

  • Step Up  This exercise involves using a stepstool or bench of a comfortable height. Do 8-12 repetitions for each leg. Stand on the stool. Holding a small ball or pillow, extend your arms up at a 45-degree angle while lifting and extending a leg behind you. After your 8-12 repetitions, switch legs. You can start out holding nothing — and can add weight as you get more proficient. (The prop is optional, especially for beginners. If you're not comfortable holding an object, just extend your hands.)
  • One-Legged Dead Lift – Standing upright holding a light weight in your right hand at your side, bend from the waist and extend your left leg behind you, lowering the weight to the ground. Then return to the upright position and lift the weight over your head, bending your left leg into a right angle, with your thigh parallel to the floor. Do this for 8-12 reps. Switch the weight to your left hand and repeat the exercise with your right leg.

  • Bosu Squat – This exercise uses a Bosu ball, a hemispherically shaped exercise device available at most athletic stores. Place the flat side of the ball on the floor. Steadying yourself (with a chair if needed), step onto the ball with both feet and balance yourself. Slowly lower yourself into a squat, with your hands extended in front of you parallel to the floor. Hold for five seconds. As you improve, try holding a light weight and extend the time you're in the squat position.

  • Seated Leg Lift  The best benefits for this exercise will come using a Versaball Stability Ball, a round, bounceable ball you can sit on. These are available at most sporting goods stores, but you can also use a chair. Sit on the ball or chair and stabilize yourself, then lift one of your feet up from the floor, keeping your knees bent. If you're comfortable doing so, perform bicep curls and overhead presses using whatever weight you are comfortable with. Do this with both legs for a combined workout time of 5 minutes.

Keeping the Residents of Residential Care Communities Fit and Well

Marilyn Kerr, R.N., Director of Nursing at Saunders House, says, “Maintaining balance and avoiding falls is especially important for residents of senior lifestyle communities such as assisted living, residential memory care and long-term nursing care communities. Leading restorative care programs provide a variety of programs and services focused on personal fitness and wellness that are ideal for maintaining residents’ strength, balance and mobility.”

“For example, Saunders House offers specialized Restorative Care. This program supplements residents’ physical and occupational therapies with individualized exercise routines guided by specially trained nursing assistants.”

Restorative exercises include:

  • Transfer training
  • Ambulation/Stair climbing
  • Range of motion/Strengthening exercises

“The Restorative Care program is overseen by a licensed nursing professional who works in close contact with the Director of Rehabilitation to ensure the best possible results for all residents.”

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences. Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

Discover our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Hospital, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services, including short-term rehabilitationtraditional nursing care, restorative carememory carerespite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our short-term rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at (610) 658-5100 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: This information should not be construed as Saunders House or Main Line Senior Care Alliance offering legal advice. For legal advice, please consult your attorney.

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