Tribune Print Share Text

Take control of your balance

Created date

January 22nd, 2013

A sound sense of balance is essential for good health as you age it helps you stay active, independent, and go about your daily routines without a fear of falling. Every year in the U.S., more than one-third of adults over age 65 sustain a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls result in moderate to severe injuries, disability, and early death. In the majority of cases, falls can be prevented by improving your balance or preventing balance problems before they start. More than eight million American adults are unsteady on their feet for a number of reasons. "Alterations in vision, the inner ear, or proprioception, which is the sense of how your body is moving, can all contribute," says Brian Tremaine, M.D., medical director at Eagle's Trace, an Erickson Living community in Houston, Tex. So can prescription medications, especially for blood pressure, and over-the-counter medications. But the most common reasons older people fall are changes in the musculoskeletal system. "Muscle weakness or arthritis can significantly affect your strength and flexibility," Tremaine adds.

Know your risk

Whether or not you suspect a balance problem, the number one place to start is your doctor's office. "There are a number of simple tests we can do right in the office to evaluate your balance," Tremaine says. One of these is a test for orthostatic hypotension, a condition in which your blood pressure drops significantly when you sit up or stand, resulting in dizziness. Your doctor will also review your medication regimen to see if modifications can be made. "Any underlying causes need to be treated first," Tremaine says, But no matter what the reason is for a balance problem, practically everyone can benefit from becoming more active and fit.

A multifaceted approach to better balance

Improving your balance or preventing problems in the first place takes a little more than going for a daily walk. "Resistance exercises can help muscle weakness and also delay its onset," Tremaine says. Adding activities that help flexibility and endurance are also essential. But how do you start all of this? Having a team work for you to coordinate a program can certainly help. "At Erickson Living we have combined rehabilitation and wellness services at several communities," says Mary Wagner, corporate director of rehabilitation operations at Erickson Living. Through the cooperative efforts of therapists, exercise physiologists, athletic trainers, and/or personal trainers, a wide variety of exercise programs are being put into place. More residents and even employees at some communities are developing better exercising habits. No matter what your doctor recommends, your rehab and wellness team will pull it all together for you. "You may need physical therapy, or you may be advised to start balance classes or begin an activity program in the fitness center," Wagner explains. Regardless of how many services you participate in, your health care team is there to help develop and modify the ideal program for you.

Research proves it

Because falls are such a major public health issue, quite a lot of research has been focused on ways to improve balance. Erickson Living's balance classes are founded on the results of much of this research. Although they are taught in groups, these balance classes do not have a one-size-fits-all structure. There are basic and advanced classes. "We objectively measure each participant's progress and make recommendations for any additional services that may be needed," Wagner explains. "Studies of our program in particular show that it is effective in improving balance," Wagner adds. In addition, residents who participate report that their daily functioning has improved, and they highly recommend the classes to others. Other wellness services are rolled into the mix. "Residents are kept up to date on the wide range of services available on campus, including nutrition counseling, rehabilitation therapies, and an assortment of exercise programs," Wagner says. Using our integrated approach, residents with balance problems can learn to stay active and live independently.