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Smart ideas to improve your balance and help you avoid falls

Smart ideas to improve your balance and help you avoid falls

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Although you can slip and fall at any time in life, it is more common as you age. More than one in four older adults falls each year, and about 20 percent of those falls result in injuries such as fractures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A multitude of changes related to aging may be to blame. “We lose muscle strength and flexibility, and our senses become less acute,” says Anne Vanderbilt, a nurse practitioner at the Center for Geriatric Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Vision and hearing may become less clear, reducing awareness of fall risks.

Chronic illnesses such as arthritis can affect balance, as can certain medications, says Audrey Chun, vice chair of outpatient geriatrics and palliative medicine services at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

Age also affects your vestibular system, the area in your inner ear that helps you maintain balance, says Greg Hartley, associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Coral Gables, Florida. .

But there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of falling.

Four quick at-home tests can help assess your balance, says Richard Marottoli, medical director of the Dorothy Adler Geriatric Assessment Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Have a sturdy chair or someone nearby to hold on to if you need support.

  1. Stand in place with your feet together.
  2. Step one foot forward so that the instep is next to the toes of the other foot.
  3. Return to the starting position, then place the toes of one foot behind the heel of the other foot.
  4. Returning to the original position, stand on one leg, then the other.

Ideally, you should be able to hold each movement for 10 seconds. If not or if you have concerns, talk to your doctor. They may refer you to physical therapy or screen you for conditions such as diabetes, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease. And note that your doctor should ask about balance during annual wellness visits.

Doctors suggest the following to improve your stability.

Review your medications annually. “The most common offenders are those that affect your alertness level or your blood pressure when you get up,” says Marottoli. These include certain medications for high blood pressure; anxiety, such as diazepam (Valium); an overactive bladder, such as oxybutynin (Ditropan); and antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Your best bet is to follow the CDC’s advice and review everything you take regularly – prescription and over-the-counter products, including supplements – with your doctor or pharmacist each year. Additionally, “if you feel foggy/groggy or unbalanced after starting a new medication (or increasing a dose) or if you have dizziness or unsteadiness when getting up, be sure to tell your clinician,” says Marottoli.

Have your eyes and ears checked. Research suggests that poor vision doubles the risk of falls in older adults. And a 2020 study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery found that hearing problems, especially in older adults, impair balance.

“When you have vision or hearing loss, your brain has to work harder to compensate, which means you have less cognitive reserve to focus on balance,” says Debra Rose, director emeritus of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University at Fullerton.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all adults over the age of 65 see an ophthalmologist every year or two. And the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says people should be examined by an audiologist every three years after age 50.

Improve your strength. Our muscles typically shrink about 3 to 8 percent per decade after age 30, and their weakening accelerates after age 60. Strength, endurance and flexibility are essential for good balance, says Chun. So older adults should do exercises that target one or more of these exercises every day, says Hartley.

Strength training that includes squats, lunges, or standing exercises can help engage the muscles in your legs, back, and abdomen that are important for stability. Research shows that simply getting outside and walking helps. Yoga is also a good option.

A 2023 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that older adults who practiced yoga were stronger and had better balance, as well as greater endurance and a faster walking pace, than those who did not. not. Another 2023 study found that the mind-body practice of tai chi also improved balance and reduced the risk of falls in older adults.

Get the right shoes. This is important because it provides a stable base for your feet, legs and body. To help your toes grip the ground more firmly, Marottoli recommends shoes with a wide toe box. He suggests shoes with soft but supportive insoles, a closed back, and laces or a fabric closure, such as Velcro, for stability. Avoid heels higher than an inch or two, sandals and flip-flops.

Build your confidence. Up to 60 percent of older adults are concerned about falls, even if they have never had one. But it can significantly limit your activities, according to a study published in BMC Geriatrics in 2021. “Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle: people are afraid to move, so they lose even more muscle strength and their balance deteriorates, which even makes them more vulnerable. more fearful,” says Hartley.

If you’re experiencing something similar, only take walks where you know the terrain at the moment. And consider doing exercises that carry little risk of falling, such as swimming, pool aerobics, and stationary cycling. These can increase lower body strength, which aids balance. If you’re still feeling apprehensive after a month, a physiotherapist can spot issues that may be affecting your balance (and confidence) and work with you to develop a plan to get you moving more easily.

Protect your home from falls. Nearly 80% of emergency room visits for falls among older adults are the result of accidents that occur at home, according to a 2021 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

To ensure your home is as safe as possible, the CDC recommends the following steps.

  • Keep your floors tidy.
  • Get rid of the rugs.
  • Add grab bars in the bathroom.
  • Install handrails on all stairs.
  • Make sure your home is well lit.

This includes adding lights to the top and bottom of all your stairs and night lights in hallways, especially those leading to bathrooms.

Copyright 2024, Consumer Reports Inc.

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