It is a “balancing act” to prevent falling.
By Carol Penfield M.S. Nurse Practitioner
Falls may happen to anyone, but as people age the risk increases. One third of people over age 65 experience a fall each year. A fall can increase the incidence of disability, dependence, depression or inactivity due to fear. Impaired balance can significantly impact the frequency of falls. The body’s position in relation to its surroundings is established by feedback from the visual, musculo-skeletal and inner ear system. The brain processes the information and sends electrical and chemical signals to your organs and muscles. A feedback loop is created and provides the following:
1) Orientation: Example = I am sitting
2) Muscle control: Example = Stand and take a step
3) Direction: Example = Turn right
4) Balance: Stay vertical!
Balance can be affected by medical, mechanical or environmental influences.
Medical diagnoses that can alter balance include: inner ear conditions, diabetes, visual changes, circulatory disorders, neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, infection and others. Some medications such as, sleeping pills, blood pressure medications, or anti-psychotics can also contribute to balance disorders.
Environmental influences affecting balance include, wet surfaces, uneven walkways, poorly lit areas, loose rugs or unpredictable movements form pets. These can contribute to falls.
Regardless of the source of risk, there are ways to improve your balance at any age. Improving strength and flexibility in the legs and torso can greatly decrease fall risk. Practicing balance exercises such as standing on one foot, up on the toes, on a balance-board, or toe to heel walking can help. Functional exercises that incorporate pilates, yoga, tai-chi, fitness balls or movement in the water can all improve balance. It is important to meet with a health care provider to rule out any new or uncontrolled medical condition prior to starting a fitness program for balance. Addressing fall prevention and balance improvement with a specialized fitness regime can maintain a person’s independence and quality of life. Balance can improve with practice. John Glenn recovered from balance problems and returned to space at age 77!
Interested in learning more about improving your balance?
Come to a FREE lecture “Balance & Flexibility” at Chatham Health & Swim Club, October 21, 1-2pm. Call to reserve. 508-945-3555