As children, we never thought twice about balance; playing all sorts of games that challenged and actually improved our balance; it was just fun. Who could hop on one leg the longest or walk the furthest on a curb without falling are a couple that come to mind. Unfortunately, as we age our motor functions decrease, our sense of limb movement and position lessens and we experience changes in our vision and vestibular system that together affect our sense of stability and steadiness. Unless you’re consistently involved in an activity or sport where your balance is stressed, you are more at risk for injuries and falls in your elder years. So, this is a case of use it or lose it!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 18,000 deaths and 450,000 hospitalizations among those over 65 are due to falls. Many are the result of diminishing balance. Fortunately, even as we age, balance can be improved with proper training. Evidence has shown the fall rate may be reduced by 50% when strength and balance activities are part of an exercise program.
With loss of balance, there is an increased fear that a fall will occur and this can lead to greater inactivity. Physical Therapy can help address this by progressively challenging an individual with specific activities to improve balance. Initially, the therapist will conduct an assessment of one’s balance with specific tests. A program is then specifically designed based on the results of these tests and an individual’s precise needs. A strengthening program is always included and the combination will help increase the patient’s confidence and lessen the fear of falling. A Physical Therapist is specifically trained to create and progress someone through a program like this and will monitor and modify the routine as improvements occur.
There are many ways to maintain and even improve your balance without equipment. You can start at home by standing with your feet side-by-side. If this is too easy, stand on one leg. Incorporate this position into exercises, brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, etc. When starting, make sure you have something to grab onto if you become unsteady. Remember; consult with your doctor or physical therapist if you have concerns about your balance.