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The Winchester Journal

Why Maintaining Balance Is Key To Your Independence and Health As You Age

Healthy Aging | 08/5/21


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Staying steady on your feet is increasingly important as you age. Not only does maintaining balance protect you from getting hurt, but it can also ultimately affect your ability to live independently.

Falls are a major safety risk for seniors; they account for 3 million older adults’ emergency room visits each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One in five falls results in a broken bone or head injury, and more than 800,000 people end up in the hospital following a fall—most commonly due to a hip fracture or head injury.

A fall that results in a serious injury has an obvious impact on your independence. Following hospitalization for an injury,  in most cases, seniors require short-term rehabilitation to regain strength and function. However, even minor injuries from a fall, like a sprain or painful bruise, can affect your mobility, range of motion, and overall ability to care for yourself. If you sustain a wound, your risk of infection increases, as well.

A senior who is prone to falls may also become fearful and begin to restrict activity, which in turn makes the body weaker and more susceptible to falls. Frequent falls and trouble maintaining balance are signs that you may be safer living in an assisted living community than living at home alone.

 

Fall Risk Factors

Awareness of the risk factors and conditions that make you more prone to falls is an important step in fall prevention. According to the CDC, many falls are the result of a combination of factors such as:

  • Problems with balance, whether due to declining muscle strength or another cause
  • Prescriptions or over-the-counter medications that affect your sense of balance
  • Weakness or pain in your lower extremities
  • Footwear that hinders your movement
  • Vision problems, such as spatial awareness or depth perception
  • Physical obstacles in your home like rugs or stairs

 

Fall Prevention

In many cases, falls can be prevented. Your medical team is a valuable resource for helping you monitor and reduce your risk of falling.

Your primary doctor is an excellent resource for assessing your health and whether you’re at elevated risk. You can review your medications and discuss which medications could affect your balance; you may also find it helpful to explore alternatives with fewer side effects and talk about whether adjusting when you take the medicine could improve your balance.

Vision plays an important role in your perception of your surroundings and how you move through them. Keep your prescription current with regular visits to the eye doctor, and be sure you have lenses that are appropriate for your lifestyle.

Whether you do it on your own, with the help of a loved one, or through a home visit with an occupational therapist, you may need to make some adjustments in your home to eliminate tripping hazards. Grab bars in the bathroom, extra railings on the stairs, and better lighting can all help prevent falls.

Even if your mobility is limited, exercise can help improve your balance. Exercise that improves your leg strength can be especially helpful. Try simple balance-booster movements like toe taps on a step, marching in place, and sit-to-stands, which use your legs and feet (not your upper body) to propel you from a sitting position.

 

At Winchester Gardens, our award-winning LivWell senior wellness program includes several classes specifically designed to help residents improve their strength and balance. Fitness classes like yoga, tai chi, and Stand Tall, Don’t Fall are all good choices for fall prevention.

If you’re not a resident, there’s good news: Even if you don’t live in the community, you can join these classes through our Springpoint Choice program. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you maintain an independent, active life.