Falls are the number one cause of injuries in older adults. Even a simple fall can result in a broken wrist or arm, a hip fracture or serious head and brain injuries. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three seniors will fall this year, but fewer than half of them will talk with their doctors about it. Even if a fall doesn’t result in a serious injury, it can be so frightening older adults may avoid certain activities because they fear they may fall again.
How to Improve Balance
Exercising can help prevent falls because it strengthens muscles and adds flexibility to them. Exercise improves balance and helps with endurance – extending the time an individual can be active.
Here are eight exercises, which can be done almost anywhere, that can help improve balance. Be sure you have something to hold on to when you begin. As you get more proficient, you can let go and balance without support. Move slowly and easily and don’t hold your breath!
- Balance on one foot. Simply raise one foot off the floor a bit while holding on to a grab bar or chair or kitchen counter.
- Sit down and stand up without using your hands.
- To make your calves and ankle muscles stronger: hold on to the back of a chair or a counter. Keep your back straight and slightly bend your knees, pushing up onto the balls of your feet (toes) as high as you can. Then, slowly lower your heels to the floor.
- To strengthen your lower back muscles and buttocks, hold onto a support with your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend both knees and lift one leg straight back behind you. Then bend your knee and bring your heel toward your buttocks. Slowly lower that leg back to a standing position. Repeat with other leg.
- To strengthen thigh muscles, sit in a straight-back chair with feet on the floor. Straighten one leg out in front, lift leg, and then slowly lower leg back down.
- Stretch the back of your leg by sitting in a straight-back chair and putting one foot on a low stool in front of you. Straighten the leg with the foot on the stool and reach your hand toward that foot. Hold for about 10-20 seconds and then sit back. Repeat with the other foot.
- Stand on one foot and walk heel to toe in a straight line with one foot in front of the other.
- Stand straight, holding on to a support and raise one leg to the side. Hold and return foot to floor. Repeat with other leg.
Do each of these exercises about 10 times two or more days a week. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program to be sure these are right for you.
Other Balance-Improving Activities
Walking is a great way to increase balance and improve strength and endurance. If you need to, use a walking stick, cane, or a walker for support.
Tai Chi is a gentle, yet effective exercise that helps adults to develop and improve balance. Exercises in a swimming pool can also help improve balance and strength. Check out the YM/YWCA in your area for classes in Tai Chi and swim exercise.
Create a Safe Living Space to Prevent Falls
Some of the most common causes of falls are in the home where there may be a false sense of security. While improved balance will go a long way toward helping to prevent falls, here are some other tips for preventing falls:
- Clear out clutter. Keep the home neat and tidy, removing clutter, including old newspapers and magazines, especially from hallways and stairs. Tie up long electrical cords.
- Remove or repair tripping dangers. Check each room in the home for loose carpets, throw rugs, floorboards or tiles that stick up.
- Increase lighting. Install brighter light bulbs, especially in hallways and over stairs. Add nightlights in bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Install non-slip mats. To prevent falls on wet or slick surfaces, install non-slip mats in bathtubs, showers, and on kitchen, bathroom, and porch floors.
- Install grab bars and handrails. Grab bars by toilets and bathtubs and handrails in stairways and hallways are vital in helping to prevent falls.
- Avoid loose clothing. Baggy clothes can catch on furniture; clothing that drags can cause you to trip. Be comfortable but keep safety in mind.
- Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes. Wearing slippers with smooth soles or ordinary socks at home can be unsafe; wear non-slip socks with grips on the soles to prevent slipping on flooring.
Take your time and move slowly and carefully. Moving too quickly from a sitting to a standing position (and vice-versa) can cause light-headedness or may cause you to get tangled up in your own feet. Pause before using the railing on the stairs, whether going up or down.
More Fall Prevention Tips
- Have your eyes and hearing tested often. Always wear your glasses and hearing aids.
- Ask your doctor about any side effects of any medicine you are taking. Tell your doctor if any drug makes you sleepy or dizzy.
- Get enough sleep. If you are sleepy, you increase the likelihood of falling.
- Limit alcohol consumption, as even a small amount can affect balance and reflexes.
More than One-Third of Older Americans...
Each year, more than two million seniors visit a hospital emergency room because of a fall-related injury. However, fear of falling need not keep you from exercising and being physically active. Increased balance and these fall prevention tips can help you stay active, maintain physical health and avoid injury.
For more information, read the National Institute of Aging’s Prevent Falls and Fractures. For more tips on preventing falls at home, read Fall-Proofing Your Home.
In addition to housing, healthcare and programs for seniors, SALMON Health and Retirement communities offer support groups and resources for caregivers and family members. To learn more about the options available to you and your loved ones, contact us today by calling 800-446-8060 for more information.