There are many systems in the body that work together to maintain balance. There are medical conditions and environmental conditions that challenge the body’s ability to maintain balance and increase the risk of falling. The good news is there are simple things that can be done to improve balance and decrease the risk of falling:
Using night lights and eliminating trip hazards will reduce the risk of falling in the dark.
Being aware of obstacles and changes in surfaces inside and outside of the home, such as curbs, walking across grass or going from carpet to tile flooring. This is especially important when carrying grocery bags, laundry baskets or boxes.
Participate in vision screenings. Wearing proper glasses can improve vision and decrease the risk of falling. Bifocals can make it difficult to walk on uneven surfaces or climb stairs, remove glasses if possible.
Discuss all medical conditions and medications with physicians to determine if they increase the risk of falling. Also discuss symptoms that can increase risk of falling such as dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, fatigue, numbness in the feet, and joint or muscular pain.
There may be simple solutions that will improve functional mobility and decrease the risk of falling.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults 65 and over participate in an exercise program that includes balance exercises a minimum of twice a week. Balance exercises should challenge static (stationary) and dynamic (moving) balance. Standing on one foot for 10 to 30 seconds will challenge static balance. Marching in place or alternating tapping your heel on a step for 20 or 30 seconds will challenge dynamic balance.
Exercises that strengthen the legs and torso and stretching exercises will also improve posture, allow for more stable movements and reduce the risk of falling. A certified fitness professional will be able to provide specific recommendations to improve or maintain balance. A physical therapist could also provide recommendations to improve balance if medical conditions are increasing the risk of falling or if balance concerns are limiting mobility.
This is part 3 of a 3-part series on balance and fall prevention. Kimberly Huff is the Fitness Director at Heron Point of Chestertown, an Acts Retirement-Life Community.