Balance Training Can Reduce Falls in the Elderly

balance training
Learning balance training early in life will add years to your life as you age. Getty Images

Balance issues are a serious health problem among the elderly and are the leading cause of hospitalization and loss of independence after the age of 65. Luckily, there’s a simple solution that most people overlook for their aging parents ­– balance training. It can help reduce falls in the elderly.

Driving you to school. Cheering while you’re up-to-bat. Chasing you around the backyard. These are the fond memories we all have of our parents from childhood.

They were strong, independent and energetic. As our parents age, our perception of them begins to change. They slow down, aren’t as active and need a little extra help getting around.

While that may not seem like a problem, it’s important to know the No. 1 reason for hospital visits after the age of 65 is a balance issue. Not heart disease, not cancer; a balance issue is most likely to result in the hospitalization of a parent. The No. 1 tip for keeping your parents independent is proper balance. And you can learn a thing or two as well that can help you as you age.

Key Questions to Know There is a Balance Issue

Questions to ask to identify a balance disorder:

-       Do your parents’ feet clear the floor as they walk or do they shuffle and drag their feet?

-       Do your parents hesitate to gain their balance before walking?

-       Do your parents walk with “high guard” (legs apart, knees flexed and arms out)?

-       Can they turn and change direction smoothly, or do they need to stop and pause before doing so?

-       Do they touch or hold doorways, counters or furniture for balance while walking?

-       Watch how they sit down. Do they fall into the chair or do they reach back to lower themselves down?

Simple Steps Help

If you notice any of the above behaviors, there is a good a chance your parents have a balance disorder.

Thankfully, there are simple steps you can take to ensure your parents stay independent.

·      If a parent has a noticeable balance disorder, you should seek medical advice from a trained physical therapist to ensure there aren’t any larger underlying issues and to get a personalized course of treatment.

·      The bulk of balance disorders are caused by immobility and a sedentary lifestyle. Engage them in easy, low-impact activities that focus on postural stability like standing and walking. Even activities like chair Tai Chi can be incredibly beneficial.

·      Schedule regular hearing and vision checks. Our auditory and visual systems directly connect to our balance. Even a minimal loss of hearing or vision can have a profound impact on your balance and stability. Regular checkups will ensure your parents’ safety, help maintain their balance and prevent injury down the road.

Balance issues don’t happen overnight; they typically begin during middle age. During this time, people tend to become busy with life and careers, which means hours spent sitting at a desk and subsequent de-conditioning.

As time goes on, the de-conditioning adds up and can make even simple movements difficult. As people enter their senior years, a fear of falling due to a loss of strength causes them to not want to move as much. It’s a self-perpetuating problem that fortunately has a simple solution.

The fact that balance can be trained is often overlooked, and no matter your age, the key is to get moving comfortably and safely. Depending on the severity of the issue, it’s generally best to first visit with a physical therapist to pinpoint any problem areas and work to strengthen them.

You play a role in their mobility as well. When you’re with your parents, here are a few easy ways to help keep them safe and mobile around the house.

·      Remove tripping hazards, especially around doors and stairways

·      Install grab bars in key areas

·      Increase lighting

Keeping a parent independent is as simple as making sure they get regular, low-impact exercise that strengthens their balance. Being mindful of the warning signs of a balance problem can help you address the issue early. And often simply a few walks a week under the guise of checking in will ensure they have the freedom to live life on their own terms. 

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