You are so excited to be celebrating your 65th birthday with your two best friends. You are at your favorite restaurant, enjoying the food and company. Now you look across the table and have to decide which one of you will fall in the next year. Unfortunately, 1 out of 3 mature adults, over the age of 65, falls each year.
Injuries from falling can result in sprains, strains, fractures, lacerations and even death. For those who fully recover the fear, of falling again, lingers and can limit one’s quality of life.
Our mature adults are living longer, getting stronger and hitting the gym more than ever. So why are they still falling? As important as strength training is, balance training is the missing link. It is important to realize that balance is made up of 3 systems including the visual, vestibular, and somatosensory systems. As one ages these systems decline. That decline can increase your risk of falling. Eye problems such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration impair the visual system. Inner ear issues, decreased neck mobility due to stenosis or cervical spine osteoarthritis impair head mobility, affecting the vestibular system. The somatosensory system weakens with age, and many people have osteoporosis, chronic pain or neuropathy. Not to mention the variety of medications our mature adults take, 4 or more automatically puts you in a fall risk category. Extrinsic factors such as poor lightening throughout the home, throw rugs, poorly placed cords and pets also play a role in causing falls.
In order to improve one’s balance it is imperative to challenge and over stimulate the three systems that allow us to stay upright. We have to get our mature adults to incorporate balance work in their exercise regimes. Simple little practices of standing with a wide or narrow base of support with your eyes open, then challenging yourself with eyes closed, while standing on both legs or a single leg, can lend to improved balance. It is important to always check with your doctor before starting any exercise workout. Better yet, it is easy to get a prescription for physical therapy and allow us to help, by designing a program catered to your specific needs.
Along with balance work we must educate our mature adults about postural awareness and good body mechanics. Many people often slouch or sit with poor posture because it feels better to them. I often hear “I can’t sit up because it hurts!” Sure it does hurt when your body is used to rounded shoulders and a forward head, then attempting to sit up tall calls on muscles to work. Our postural muscles of the core require strengthening as much as our arms and legs do. Just start by reminding yourself to stand up 2 inches taller. If you are a woman, show of your beautiful necklace and gentleman make your tie high. Even the littlest adjustment overtime can be enough of a reminder to improve your postural awareness. Use of good body mechanics with lifting, pulling, pushing or carrying can keep your core stronger and decrease your risk of back injuries and falling.
Practice, practice, practice! It does not take long to see improvement. Studies show that implementing a balance program along with a well-rounded work out program can reduce the risk of falls. Balance training is can be done safely, does not require any fancy equipment and has been able to counter the risk of falling. As therapists, we have the knowledge to educate and assist those who are at risk. Fear of falling can be paralyzing. Fight that fear by tackling it head on. Talk to your primary care physician during your next check up and see if you could benefit from physical therapy for balance and fall prevention.
Beth DiNenna, MPT
Premier Physical Therapy, Pottstown