Published: September 7, 2022
We hear a lot about how to find and maintain balance in our life. That’s important, but so is finding and maintaining balance in a literal sense.
“Having good balance means being able to control and maintain your body's position, whether you are moving or remaining still. Good balance helps you walk without staggering, get up from a chair without falling, climb stairs without tripping, and bend over without falling. Good balance is important to help you get around, stay independent, and carry out daily activities,” according to the National Institute on Aging.
Strong ankles and feet are needed to keep us upright and steady, but that’s not all, says Kendal at Oberlin Wellness Coordinator Jill Tvaroha. “Everything affects balance,” she told Kendal residents during a recent presentation, listing factors from eyesight and hearing difficulties to poor posture and certain medications.
Balance disorders can lead to falls
For older adults, fall facts can be frightening.
Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
More than one out of four older adults falls each year
- Every year 3 million older adults are treating in emergency departments for fall injuries;
- Also annually at least 300,000 older adults are hospitalized with hip fractures;
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury.
One way to deal with the fear of falling is to assess your risk of falling. The CDC’s STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) developed a 12-point checklist to assess your risk for falling, which Jill shared with the audience.
Here are 4 of the “yes or no” statements:
I have fallen in the past year. (People who have fallen once are more likely to fall again.)
- I need to push with my hands to stand up from a chair. (This is a sign of weak leg muscles, a major reason for falling.)
- I steady myself by holding onto furniture when walking at home.(This is a sign of poor balance.)
- I have lost some feeling in my feet. (Feet numbness can cause stumbles and lead to falls.)
Also, be aware of balance disorder symptoms.
- Stagger when you try to walk, or teeter or fall when you try to stand up.
- Dizziness or vertigo (a spinning sensation)
- Falling or feeling as if you are going to fall
- Lightheadedness, faintness, or a floating sensation
- Blurred vision
- Confusion or disorientation
How to reduce your risk of falling
If you have multiples symptoms or risk factors, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist who can determine causes and treatment.
Strength and balance exercises can help prevent falls. Jill demonstrated several simple exercises, using a chair for support and first done with eyes opened. “If you’re not steady with eyes open, don’t close your eyes,” she says.
One key exercise is being able to stand on one leg for at least 10 seconds, based on a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “After adjusting for age, sex, and existing health conditions, scientists estimated those who could not stand on one leg for 10 seconds were associated with an 84% increased risk of death over the next seven years,” according to Prevention.
Other activities that help improve balance are tai chi, dance and table tennis.
Here are 5 other fall prevention tips from the National Institute on Aging:
Make your home safer by using night lights, installing grab bars in the bathroom, and securing carpet to the floors
- Stand up slowly to avoid dizziness
- Talk with your health care provider about medication side effects
- Get your vision and hearing checked regularly
- Use a cane or walker if you need more stability
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In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.
About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.