Fall Prevention: Simple Exercises to Help Seniors Build Strength and Improve Balance
By Sharon Wagner
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four older adults suffers a fall every year resulting in hospital stays and a loss of mobility or independence. One in five falls causes broken bones or a head injury and 3 million seniors are treated in emergency rooms each year due to falls. The total annual cost of falls among seniors totals more than $50 billion a year, with Medicare and Medicaid footing about 75 percent of the cost. Aside from broken bones, falls can be very serious for seniors who take blood thinners because of the potential for excessive blood loss. And there are psychological costs as well. Older adults are often left fearful of subsequent falls and may need help getting around.
Weakened bones and muscles and balance problems stemming from dizziness or disorientation are often to blame, but those are just a few of the factors that contribute to falls. Lower-body weakness, impaired vision, foot and ankle pain, a vitamin D deficiency, the impact of medication (i.e. sedatives or antidepressants), and home hazards like electrical cords, uneven steps, throw rugs, and general clutter often combine to create an unsafe scenario for older adults who struggle to get around their own homes. The more risk factors that are present in the home, the higher the likelihood that a fall will occur.
Balance, step, and strength exercises can help seniors boost overall muscular flexibility and strength. You can also ask a physician to review your medications if dizziness is a persistent problem, and have your vision checked in case corrective vision is needed or needs to be adjusted. Always keep objects that could present a tripping hazard picked up and out of the way. Have grab rails installed in the bathroom and railings in the hall and stairways, and ensure there’s plenty of lighting throughout the home, especially in spaces that don’t get much natural light.
There are many fall prevention exercises designed to strengthen your body and improve balance. Safety should always be your first concern when exercising. Stop and rest if you become tired or dizzy, and cease doing any exercises that cause pain. As you begin exercising, have a family member or friend nearby in case assistance is needed. Try the following exercises, which are aimed at helping you remain mobile and independent.
Begin in a standing position in front of a sturdy chair. Reach back to the armrests to provide support and slowly sit down, using your leg muscles without dropping back into the chair. From a seated position, use your arms (pushing down on the armrests) and legs together to stand back up. Pause in a standing position for a moment then repeat, and try doing 10 repetitions.
Holding onto a chair or countertop, stand straight and bring one knee steadily and gradually up toward your chest as though marching in place. Lower and raise the other knee, doing 10 raises for each knee. Remember to use muscle strength to raise each leg rather than momentum so you build leg/lower body strength.
Toe to Heel
Holding a chair back or countertop, rise up on your toes with your heels in a raised position, then slowly lower your feet flat to the floor, rock back on your heels, and lift your toes in the air. Try doing 10 repetitions for each foot.
Stand between two chairs or a counter. Holding onto a chair or counter, bend a knee and raise the foot while balancing on the other leg. Then, do likewise on the opposite leg and hold for 10 to 15 seconds if possible. Be sure to begin holding on with both hands until you feel strong enough to use just one hand.
If you’re a senior who’s suffered a fall, it’s natural to fear a repeat occurrence. Doing exercises that build strength and improve balance will restore confidence in your ability to move around safely. Remember to start slowly and progress gradually until you’re ready to increase repetitions or move on to something more challenging.