Have you ever tested your balance by standing on one foot? And then closing your eyes? Balance can be a challenge for many, but it is of critical relevance to baby boomers and older adults, because loss of balance means falls. In fact, every 13 seconds, an adult over 60 is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 20 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall!
This week is National Balance Awareness Week, an event sponsored by the Vestibular Disorders Association (veDA). That word may sound familiar—“vestibular” is a system in the inner ear that sends signals to your brain telling you where you are in space. According to veDA, this system can be damaged by aging, injury, or disease, leading to:
- vertigo (a rotational, spinning feeling)
- brain fog
- hearing loss
- visual impairment
- nausea and motion sickness
- cognitive and psychological changes
With fast and accurate diagnosis, and coping strategies, the quality of life for people suffering from this chronic illness can be greatly enhanced.
And because imbalance can lead to falls, here are some strategies to keep yourself, and loved ones, safely on your feet:
- Check your environment.
Make sure your home (or that of an older loved one) is well lit in all areas, and lightbulbs are replaced regularly; remove tripping hazards such as small rugs and wiring that gets into walk areas; install grab bars in bathrooms and tubs/showers.
2) Scrutinize medications.
Have your healthcare provider look closely at all medications–prescription and over-the-counter. Side effects may increase the risk of falling; take only as prescribed.
3) Consider vision and hearing.
Problems with your eyes and ears can increase your risk of falling. Get your vision and hearing checked annually, and keep eyeglasses updated.
4) Talk to your healthcare providers.
They can help assess your risk of falling and refer you to helpful resources.
5) Talk to your family members.
Enlist their support.
6) Improve balance and gait, and muscle strength.
Keep moving! Look for a program to build balance, strength and flexibility. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or senior center for referrals. Find a program you like and take a friend.
If you’re having problems with balance, check first with your healthcare provider. Then, for exercises to help prevent falls, contact me.