Falling remedy: Stay balanced, stay healthy
By Joe Black | (email@example.com)
Maybe it’s all those candles on the birthday cake but geriatric concerns are quickly becoming joeblack concerns. Maybe it’s the nature of my work too.
Anyway, I do know one of the greatest fears of those that are older is a fear of falling.
And it’s a legitimate fear, with over 2 million people falling every year in this country alone.
One of the tragic consequences of a fall is a broken hip. For those with already compromised health (the elderly are chief among those), that can be bad news. Probably 25 percent of those that break a hip will die within a year of their injury.
So what can be done about it? Can we really do anything to prevent falls?
Oh yeah. Lots.
First up is staying physically active. Not only does this give us stronger bones and muscles, it gives us better balance — but more on that in a minute. Staying active means staying engaged in the community, staying active in your neighborhood, and exercising regularly. Your exercise regime should include strength training. I’ve said many times, it is more important to lift weights at 70 than it is at 30.
Osteoporosis is a real problem as we age, especially for women. Weight-bearing activities (running, walking, hiking) can have a huge impact on the development of osteoporosis. One of the side effects of that is that if you do fall, your bones are stronger and can maybe withstand a fall without breaking.
Get rid of the vanity. I strongly recommended to a patient not long ago that she begin using a cane. After a series of falls and health issues that guaranteed more, it just seemed prudent. Her refusal was quick and adamant. A cane would not fit in with her “image.”
Having something, anything to aid in balance might just prevent a fall. It’s not that much different from the hiking sticks that folks of all ages carry. Maybe I should start recommending hiking poles instead of canes for some folks.
Bifocals (or progressive lens or whatever it is that you might have) contribute to falls. The bottom of those lenses are made to allow you to see things up close. The ground or the floor is blurry when you look down through them. I don’t wear mine when I go hiking. I need to see the ground below me.
The solution? Maybe smaller frames so that you can see below your glasses. Or just consciously looking below the lower rim. In any case, the visual input of seeing where you are stepping is a huge assist in falls prevention.
Finally, balance can be trained. If you are at significant risk, there are falls prevention programs available at many physical therapy clinics. Those programs really work. But for most, a few simple exercises performed daily at home can help your balance.
Start by standing on one foot. Sounds simple but time yourself — how long can you stand on one foot?
Or stand with your eyes closed. Be sure and have a family member available and some way of stabilizing yourself if you start to fall, such as a handrail (don’t depend on furniture).
Next, stand on one foot and close your eyes.
Or maybe stand on one foot and swing your arms from side to side. Get the picture? Put demands on your balance system and it gets better.
Stay sharp. Stay active. Stay balanced.
Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Write to him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)