Seniors and The Importance of Balance

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By Daniel Jazreel, Therapist

Balance problems are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor. 

The US health care system spent an estimated $50 billion on fall related injuries among elderly 65 years and older in the year 2015.The economic burden from falls is likely to increase substantially in the coming years.

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.

Balance is achieved and maintained by a complex set of sensorimotor control systems that include sensory input from vision (sight), proprioception (touch), and the vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation); integration of that sensory input; and motor output to the eye and body muscles. 

If you have a balance disorder, you may stagger when you try to walk, or teeter or fall when you try to stand up. You might experience other symptoms such as:● Dizziness or vertigo (a spinning sensation)● Falling or feeling as if you are going to fall● Lightheadedness, faintness, or a floating sensation● Blurred vision

The complexity of the human balance system creates challenges in diagnosing and treating the underlying cause of imbalance. The crucial integration of information obtained through the vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive systems means that disorders affecting an individual system can markedly disrupt a person’s normal sense of balance. 

How to improve and maintain a good balance: 

A good stretching routine to improve and maintain good range of motion in all joints especially in our lower extremity joints (hip, knee and ankle).

A good strength training routine to improve and maintain good strength in bilateral lower extremity and core strength.

Tai Chi improves balance in several ways:  It strengthens and improves ankle flexibility, creating a more stable stance.It helps to distribute movement more evenly among the ankle, knee, and hip joints, enabling faster and smoother walking.It helps reduce postural sway by optimizing the use of proprioception— sensory input received by the brain.

Consult with a health care practitioner before starting any kind of  exercise routine ,  some simple exercises to challenge and maintain a good balance are:

Single Limb Stance

It’s best to start off with a simple balance exercise for seniors. Here’s how you do this one: stand behind a steady, solid chair (not one with wheels), and hold on to the back of it. Lift up your right foot and balance on your left foot. Hold that position for as long as you can, then switch feet.

The goal should be to stand on one foot without holding onto the chair and hold that pose for up to a minute.

Weight Shifts.

Stand with your feet apart, so that the space between them is the same width as your hips. Make sure both feet are pressed into the ground firmly. Stand straight, with your head level. Then, transfer your weight to your right foot and slowly lift your left leg off the ground. Hold that position for as long as possible (but no more than 30 seconds).

Slowly put your foot back onto the ground, then transfer your weight to that foot. Slowly lift your opposite leg. Start by doing this exercise for balance five times per side, then work your way up to more repetitions.

Marching in Place

Marching is a great balance exercise for seniors. If you need to hold onto something, do this exercise in front of a counter.

Standing straight, lift your right knee as high as you can. Lower it, then lift the left leg. Lift and lower your legs 20 times.

Consult with a physical therapist if you need a detailed program to improve your balance.

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