As we age, maintaining good balance and strength becomes increasingly critical to prevent falls which can have serious consequences, particularly for older adults. In fact, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that each year, over 25 percent of adults aged 65 or older have a fall, with 3 million being treated for fall injuries in emergency departments.
This article, “Fall Prevention: Exercises to Improve Balance and Strength,” provides practical, easy-to-follow exercises for the elderly aimed at improving balance and building strength. The exercises are recommended especially for older adults who may find seemingly simple activities like squatting, standing up from a chair, or walking somewhat challenging due to unsteadiness, thereby increasing their risk of falls.
Understanding Fall Risks
Every year, falls become a health risk for adults, especially those above 65 years of age. In particular, more than a quarter of older adults experience a fall, and 3 million are treated for fall injuries. Understanding the risks associated with falls can help you and your loved ones prevent them in the future.
Role of balance and walking problems
Balance issues can greatly increase the risk of falls. Due to changes in vision, vestibular problems, and altered sensation in the feet, balance can be affected. Walking problems, such as unsteadiness or weakness of the legs, can also heighten the risk.
Impact of multiple medications
Taking five or more medications has been shown to increase the chances of falling. Every bunch of tablets can produce several side effects, one of which can be poor balance or dizziness, hence increasing the risk of falls.
Home hazards contributing to falls
Home hazards, including dim lighting and trip hazards like cluttered floors, can also increase the risk. It is especially important to assess and eliminate these dangers to ensure a safe and secure environment for individuals vulnerable to falls.
Effects of positional low blood pressure
Orthostatic hypotension, the phenomenon where your blood pressure drops suddenly upon standing, is another common cause of falls. This happens because the sudden change in posture can lead to dizziness and loss of balance, which can lead to a fall if not managed properly.
Issues around feet and footwear
Issues linked to feet and footwear can also contribute to increased fall risks. Elderly people wearing ill-fitting shoes, high-heeled shoes, or slippers are more prone to fall.
Identifying High-Risk Situations for Falls
Understanding situations where falls often occur can help in taking measure to prevent them.
Falls in the bathroom
The bathroom can be an especially high-risk area due to its slippery surface. Falling when sitting or standing from the toilet or shower is common, as the quick shift from sitting to standing can lead to dizziness and balance loss.
Tripping in a dimly lit bedroom
Another common location for falls is the bedroom, particularly at night when lighting is poor. Older adults can trip over unseen objects when getting up quickly and heading to the bathroom or other parts of the room.
Hazardous incidents during night time
Night time in general can be hazardous. Lack of illumination makes it difficult to see and avoid obstacles, and sudden awakenings can lead to disorientation and balance issues.
The Importance of Exercise for Fall Prevention
Regular exercises focusing on balance and strength can significantly reduce the risk of falls among adults, particularly the elderly.
Reducing the risk of falls through exercise
Strength training can increase stability by strengthening the muscles that keep you upright. Balance exercises, on the other hand, can improve your ability to control and maintain your body’s position, whether moving or still.
Incorporating balance and strength training in regular workout routine
You need to incorporate balance and strength training exercises in your regular workout routine. This not only improves your body’s function but also revamps your body mechanics by optimizing muscle strength, balance, and coordination.
Improving body mechanics for stability
Through regular exercise, you can condition your body to automatically employ safer movements and body positions that decrease strain and reduce the risk of falls.
Exercises for Individuals with Low Risk of Fall
Before performing any exercises, it’s crucial to ensure that you are at a relatively low risk of falling and have proper guidance.
Consultation with the doctor or physical therapist before starting new exercises
Before beginning any new exercise plan, you should always consult with your doctor or a physical therapist. They can guide you on the right types and intensity levels of exercises suited to your current physical condition.
Understanding the limitations due to weak balance
Recognizing your limitations is crucial. If your balance is relatively weak, start with easier, low-impact exercises and gradually make them more difficult as your strength and balance improve.
The sit-to-stand exercise is an effective method for building leg strength and improving balance.
Initial setup for Sit-to-Stand exercise
Start by sitting on a stable, non-rolling chair. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your buttocks should be at the front edge of the seat.
Steps to perform the Sit-to-Stand exercise
Lean your body forward over your toes, shifting your body weight forward. Contract your gluteal muscles and rise to a standing position. Sit back down slowly and repeat the process. Aim to do 10 repetitions twice a day.
Advanced version of Sit-to-Stand exercise
For a more advanced version of the exercise, you can hold hand weights to add resistance, making the training more challenging and effective.
Balance exercises are a great way to reduce fall risks by improving steadiness.
Preconditions for performing Balance exercises
Before beginning balance exercises, ensure you have a sturdy surface or another person nearby to prevent falls and injuries if you lose balance.
Types of Balance exercises
Typically, balance exercises involve holding different standing positions – standing with feet apart, feet together, and standing on one foot. Aim to hold each position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Progression of Balance exercises
As your balance improves, challenge yourself by trying to hold the positions with your eyes closed.
Safety Measures While Exercising
It’s important to be safe while exercising.
Assessing ability to hold positions in exercises
Always assess your ability to hold the positions in the exercises and only progress when you’re comfortable with the current level of exercise.
Importance of supervision while exercising
Doing your exercises under supervision is crucial, especially if you’re just beginning. This can prevent falls and injuries should you lose your balance.
What to do in case of lost balance
In case you lose balance, don’t panic. Try to relax your body and protect your head while falling. If you’re near a wall or sturdy surface, reach out for it.
Additional Steps for Fall Prevention
There are other steps that you can and should take to prevent falls.
Regular discussions with health practitioners about fall prevention
Stay in regular consultation with your healthcare practitioners. Discuss fall prevention strategies, your medications, and any changes to your health and lifestyle.
Why to report a fall to the doctor
If you experience a fall, even if you aren’t injured, it’s crucial to report it to your doctor. This can help them identify any new or increased risks and suggest preventative action.
Using external help to check home for trip hazards
Enlist the help of friends, family, or professional caregivers to check your home environment for potential trip hazards.
Role of Family and Friends in Fall Prevention
The support of family and friends can be invaluable in managing fall risks.
Ensuring safety during exercise sessions
Having someone around when you exercise not only offers immediate help if needed, but also encourages you and can make exercise more enjoyable.
Help in identifying potential trip hazards at home
Family and friends can offer fresh eyes to spot potential hazards at home that you may have overlooked.
Special Considerations for Fall Prevention in Different Medical Conditions
It’s important to recognize that certain medical conditions might require different approaches for fall prevention.
Special care for patients with sports injuries
Sports injuries can affect your balance and mobility, increasing your risk of falls. Recognize the limits of your body and follow doctor’s instructions carefully.
Tailoring exercises for geriatric patients
Older adults may need exercises tailored to their specific abilities and needs. Healthcare providers or physical therapists can provide appropriate exercises.
Tips for fall prevention in Parkinson’s disease patients
Patients with Parkinson’s disease are especially prone to falls due to problems with gait, posture, and rigidity. Deep brain stimulation, medication, and certain specialized exercises can all aid in reducing the risk of falls in Parkinson’s patients.