USA Today had an interesting article about a new report on balance and aging. “Loss of balance, it turns out, is not just a problem for the oldest old. Instead — like strength, agility and muscle mass — balance tends to start declining in midlife.”
As we grow older, all of us lose some of our ability to balance leading to falls. This knowledge allows us to recognize our limitations and prevent falls. However, elderly resident who suffer from dementia, delirium, or other cognitive issues may not be aware of their limitations and safety precautions. That is why nursing homes must supervise, care plan, and monitor the effectiveness of the fall prevention interventions used.
The new findings, published in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, shows a decline earlier in life than many might suspect, says Miriam Morey, a researcher at Duke University School of Medicine. While all the scores fell from the youngest to oldest age groups, scores on the balance and sit-and-stand tests were the first to fall, starting in the 50s, say Morey and co-author Katherine Hall, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke.
About one-third of adults over 65 fall each year, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there’s less fall data on younger adults, studies suggest that at least one in 10 falls each year. Most are not seriously injured, but broken bones and head injuries from falls land about 700,000 people in hospitals each year, the CDC says.
“Balance is not just a matter of how well the vestibular system of the inner ear is working. Declines in strength, flexibility, vision, touch and mental functioning can all contribute to balance problems, says Peter Wayne, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.”
“Balance is a very complicated process,” he says. But improving it can be simple, the experts say. Here are a few tips:
• Practice standing on one foot, challenging yourself to increase the duration. You can do it on line at the grocery store or while brushing your teeth. If that’s too difficult at first, start by using a chair back or bathroom counter for support. If it’s easy, try raising your foot higher or holding it out to the side. For extra challenge, try standing on a throw pillow or closing your eyes.
• Try heel-to-toe walking, as if on a balance beam.
• Practice getting in and out of a chair without using your hands.
• Exercise while standing on a wobble board or Bosu ball (an inflated rubber disc on a stable platform).
• Try tai chi or yoga. The evidence that tai chi can improve balance is especially strong, and studies show it is quite safe for people of all ages and fitness levels. In a typical class, a series of movements is performed in a slow, graceful flow, accompanied by meditative deep breathing.