Balance is important for everyone and keeping your sense of balance active as you age is vital.
This is because:
1 in 3 people over the age of 65 will have a fall.
Falls are the most common cause of injury and hospitalization among older people.
Once a person has had a fall they are more likely to fall again. So ideally you want to avoid falling at all.
The risk of falling increases with age, yet falls are not a natural part of aging. Falls are a major source of injury. This includes fractures, dislocations, head injuries, abrasions, bruising & sprains. The fear of falling can also result in loss of confidence and restriction of activities.
What can you do to avoid falls?
Address factors which can lead to falls such as:
Balance & Gait: Aging generally results in a loss of coordination, flexibility, and balance. This is made worse by inactivity and can be improved through exercise.
Environment: This one is up to you, though there are services that can assess your home for falls risks. However, there are plenty of simple modifications that you can make to reduce falls risks (some ideas are listed below). The key is to remove trip hazards before they become a problem.
Health Conditions: If you have any chronic health conditions make sure that they are under control, many chronic conditions can affect your balance and mobility.
Vision: Aging changes how our eyes work. The general recommendation is to get an eye check once a year.
Medications: Some medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with other medications that can lead to a fall. This is why it is important for your physician to keep track of all your medications and supplements. Your pharmacist can also act as a safety net.
Eat Healthily: Poor diet and dehydration can cause weakness, fatigue and dehydration.
Around the Home
Make sure the lights in your house are bright.
Avoid clutter and make sure walkways are clear.
Replace or repair carpets with worn areas, holes or long threads. Make sure rugs and mats are secure and have no tears or wrinkles, this may require the use of tape to prevent sliding.
Have study chairs & beds that are easy to get in and out of.
Clean spills ASAP
Rails may be required in the bathroom or near stairs.
Avoid clothing that can cause you to become tangled or that makes it difficult to walk, for example; long dressing gowns (to the floor), socks or loose slippers, ill-fitting shoes.
Exercise & Falls
There is a myth that limiting activity is a way to prevent falls, this is untrue. Performing physical activities can help stay independent as it increases your strength and range of motion. And it is never too late to start.
A Meta-analysis was released in 2016 that found exercise reduces fall rates in community-dwelling older people by 21%. With exercise programs that challenge balance and involve >3 hours/week increasing that to a 39% reduction in falls.
Almost all exercise is good exercise. However, for improvements in balance a focus on dynamic balance, strength and flexibility (on land) is needed. The more personalized for you an exercise program is, the better it will work, and the better your results will be. Some less specialized exercises that will improve these areas are Pilates, yoga and tai chi.
It sounds simple, but to avoid falls all you need to do is reduce fall hazards where possible and keep being active!