The statistics show that…
– Every day, 133 older Queenslanders have a fall requiring medical attention, even though falls are mostly preventable,
– 1 in 3 people aged 65+ fall once or more each year,
– Shockingly, 24% of people aged 50+ die within 12 months of a post-fall hip fracture.
But why does our falls risk increase as we age?
– As we age, we experience natural degradation in the 3 sensory systems: the visual, vestibular (inner ear), and somatosensory system (sensory neurons throughout muscles and connective tissues).
– Correlation between old age and length of sway path during single-leg balance (larger sway indicates degraded balance),
– Older groups demonstrate the smallest area of stability that weight can be shifted and controlled, thus indicating a decreased ability to control balance disturbances,
– The elderly are slower at executing rapid response steps to avoid falls when their balance is unexpectedly perturbed.
If you could reduce your risk of falls associated injury, would you?
The good news:
– Regular balance training has been proven to overcome age-related sensory degradation throughout the visual, vestibular (inner ear), and somatosensory (muscles) systems,
– 9 weeks of balance training in subjects aged 70+ has been shown to improve single-leg balance and walking speed.
Disclaimer: Please ensure all exercises are completed in a safe environment, with no visible trip hazards, and have a friend or family member present to be of assistance and to practice with. Exercises can be done with shoes on or off. Better balance gains can be made with shoes off, as greater feedback is gained through bare feet.
Tight-rope balance walk, or heel to toe walk.
– Walk along an imaginary tight-rope, using arms for balance. The goal is to comfortably walk heel to toe a distance of 6+ meters, with eyes fixed on the horizon.
– Sideways movements are known to have a good cross-over to improving balance. Draw a line in the concrete with chalk, or use a thin rope to side-step over. As you get better, increase the speed of the stepping. Complete 3 sets of 30s, with 15s rest between sets.
Balance on foam pad (or similar uneven surface)
– Grab a foam mat, or use a cushion or similarly uneven surface. Perform the following balance combos to challenge your balance on an uneven surface. Each exercise can be completed eyes open initially, and progressed to eyes closed (ONLY when safe).
- Feet together,
- Split stance (back foot heel raised),
- Straight-line split stance.
Walk with high/low hand
– Normal walking, but with one hand held high, and one hand held low. Step forward on your left foot and look to the left hand, step forward on the right foot and look to the right hand. Not as easy as it looks, as the head movement challenges the vestibular system! Practice until able to consistently maintain normal walking speed without losing balance. Change hand position after each lap.
Single-leg balance, eyes open and eyes closed
– Most importantly, pick a safe spot to complete this exercise. A good example is in a hallway with support on each side, behind a chair, in the corner of a room, or in the presence of a partner keeping close watch. If able to complete 45s+ eyes open, progress to eyes closed. Aim for 10s+.
Reducing falls risk is of critical importance when maintaining quality of life and lifestyle independence. If you are at risk of falls, or have suffered a fall over the past 12 months, it’s too important to not take action (if you have suffered a fall, please communicate this to your GP so that necessary interventions can be advised. This could be in the shape of reviewing current medication and associated side-effects, organising a referral to see an Exercise Physiologist and/or have an Occupational Therapist ‘fall-proof’ your home). Practice the above balance exercises in a safe and controlled environment, and you should notice an improved ability to maintain balance in a range of situations, from climbing the stairs at the shopping centre, to walking on the soft sand down to the beach.
If you personally, or someone you know suffers with poor balance and a subsequent greater risk of falls and associated injuries, contact Restart Exercise Physiology today. Our team of tertiary qualified Exercise Physiologists can further develop a balance program specific to your individual needs, current capacity and lifestyle goals.
Yours in health and wellness,