Aging and balance

Aging has many benefits, such as having more experience to draw upon when faced with decisions. But growing older also has some down sides, such as increased risk for developing chronic disease and decreased mobility.

One problem that plagues aging adults is the loss of balance or the inability to regain one’s balance when falling. The loss of balance leading to falls is especially risky considering the frailness of many older adults. Aging increases the risk of developing osteoporosis and with weakened bones. A fall that once may have caused minor bumps and bruises could now become a major problem with the possibility of broken bones and broken hips.

When planning health care for yourself or a loved one, consider improving your balance a priority. There are two issues that need to be addressed—the physical surroundings of the adult and the physical fitness of the adult.

Most of us know what we need to do in our surroundings to help prevent falls at any age. Here is a list to check that is especially important for senior adults:

  • Make sure all walkways and hallways are well lighted.
  • Throw rugs need to be anchored or removed.
  • Handrails should be installed at all stairways including steps into the house.
  • Stairways and steps should have non-slip strips securely attached.
  • Handrails are needed in bathrooms near bathtubs and toilets.
  • Bathtubs and showers need non-slip strips on the flooring.

One area for balance control that is often over-looked is improving the balance of the older adult. Once balance issues in the home are identified there are simple physical activities that older adults can do to help improve their balance:

  • Standing near a chair or wall, practice standing on one foot and then the other foot. Balance as long as you can, without wobbling, and try to increase the length of time you can do this.
  • Try the above balancing tip with your eyes closed. Be sure to be near something supportive you could grab if you start to lose your balance.
  • Sit in a chair and stand up without holding on to the arms. Try this several times every day until you’re able to easily do it.
  • Walk around your house as slowly as you can without losing your balance. Your goal should be to keep walking slower and slower without losing your balance.
  • Sign up for physical activities that improve balance such as yoga, tai chi or programs designed to improve balance.

Loss of balance doesn’t have to be the end of an active life for older adults. Check out the above tips and set goals to increase the safety of your home and develop a physical activity program to improve your balance.

For more information on healthy lifestyles including healthy aging, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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