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Balance and Fall Prevention As We Age

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As people age, they become less aware of where their feet are. They think they know, but they are mistaken.  We don’t realize that things that we ignored early on may injure us in later years.  Like for example, throw rugs, poor lighting and lamp cords.  As a result, as we age, we become more prone to falling.

There are both internal and external reasons why we have problems with falling as we age.  Internal factors include medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, impaired vision and hearing, and age-related changes such as stiffness in the joints and slower reflexes.  External factors include medications, improper use of assistive devices and items in our environment that we can trip over.

Basically, there are three senses that we all have that help us with balance.  These three senses are sight, the inner ear, and proprioception (the neurological sense of where you are in space).  You need two of these three senses to be working properly in order to have good balance.  However, as we age, our vision diminishes, our ears start to malfunction, and our sense of proprioception decreases.  As a result, our balance is not as good.  Add to this the fact that as we age our reaction time and reflexes are slower and our muscles are not as strong, and you’ve got a fall waiting to happen.

That’s the bad news.  But here’s the good news:  these things that make us prone to falling can be improved upon.  There are things you can do things to improve our proprioception.  You can exercise to strengthen the muscles that are essential for balance.  In addition, you can have your vision and hearing examined, and there may be things you can do to improve on both.

Balance exercises

There is a lot of overlap between strength and balance exercises.  Primarily with balance exercises, you want to help build up your leg muscles to prevent falls.  I recommend visiting the NIH Senior Health website for more detailed instructions on how to do balance exercises at home.  These exercises can help you stay steady on your feet, but they aren’t for everyone.  This is especially true if you have severe balance problems or certain orthopedic conditions.  You can talk with your doctor or chiropractic physician before you get started if you’re uncertain whether you should do them.

Proprioception

Proprioception, which provides 60 percent of the body’s information about balance, degrades with time. Chiropractic spinal manipulation, manipulation to extremities, and specific exercises all work to stimulate muscle fibers and joint mechanoreceptors in the body, which help keep proprioception healthy.  This type of stimulation can increase your awareness of where your body is in space, which may help to keep you on your feet.

External factors 

As we age, medications start to play more of a role in many people’s lives.  However, these medications may be contributing to some of your balance problems.  Medications such as anti-depressants, blood pressure medications, and sedatives can all make you susceptible to falling.  There are also interactions between different types of drugs that can also lead to dizziness.  If you are having problems with balance or dizziness, please contact your doctor or pharmacist to determine if your medications may be playing a role.

Also, make sure you check your living spaces to determine if there are hazards there that can lead to falling.  Make sure you have good lighting, without extension cords, in every area of your home.  Remove throw rugs from doorways and hallways, and make sure other rugs are slip resistant.  Install grab-bars in the bathroom to help you get off the toilet and into the bathtub.  A night light in the bathroom is also a good idea.  And most importantly, wear shoes with good support, such as lace-up oxford shoes with leather soles and rubber heels.

I hope this article was helpful.  If you need any further information on balance and fall prevention, feel free to contact me or your own chiropractor or medical doctor.

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