From Everyday Health, By Lynda Shrager
Both my daughter and I admit to being frequent fallers. We’ve missed a step, gotten knocked over, and she even once fell up a hill.
I should have paid more attention to the curb. Her heels were too high. We can blame it on various things. The bottom line is that our sense of balance could be better.
Have you checked yours lately?
Stand with your arms at your sides, lift one foot up about 6 inches and count to 30. Did you start to wobble? Balance, the ability of your body to maintain equilibrium when you are carrying out our daily activities, starts to decline with age. By age 65, one in three people will have potentially serious falls.
The key to maintaining balance lies with three major sensory contributors. Vision provides you with a sense of where you are in relation to your environment and gives you clues that keep you from tripping over obstacles. Nerve receptors in the fluid-filled semicircular canals of the inner ear send balance messages to the brain when your head moves side to side or up and down. The third contributors to good balance are proprioceptors, which are nerves embedded in muscles and tendons that tell the brain when a movement occurs so the body can shift to maintain its equilibrium.
When one or more of these systems malfunctions, your balance can be affected.
Here are just a few reasons for balance issues:
- Seasickness or motion sickness. Occurs because your eyes tell you the boat or car is steady but your inner ear senses the rocking or motion.
- Vertigo. A sudden sensation of unsteadiness or spinning, sometimes causes by inner-ear problems.
- Postural hypotension. A drop in blood pressure when you’re rising from a bed or chair that can cause lightheadedness.
- Neurological conditions. Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, strokes, and other conditions that can contribute to balance problems.
- Nerve damage in your feet. Associated with type 2 diabetes and other causes ofneuropathy.
- Medications. Many have dizziness or vertigo as a possible side effect.
Preventing loved ones from falling is a constant preoccupation for caregivers. Try these exercises to help you and those you care for stay on your feet.
The good news is that balance is a motor skill that can be maintained and even improved with exercises that keep your hips, knees, and ankles strong. When you feel comfortable enough doing these exercises with your eyes open, try them with your eyes closed to stimulate your vestibular system. Always have a sturdy object such as a chair within reach just in case you feel wobbly.
- One-leg stands. Stand straight. Raise one leg, bending your knee to 45 degrees. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times and then switch legs. Try one-leg stands while waiting in lines, washing dishes or watching TV.
- Heel-to-toe walking. Walk with the heel of the front foot touching the toe of the back foot as you take 10 steps forward.
- Side-stepping. Step to the right, then bring your left foot to meet your right foot. Advance to cross-stepping, where you side-step to the right and cross your left leg behind, then side-step to the right again and cross your left leg in front. Continue this pattern as you walk sideways across a room.
- Unassisted standing from a chair. Sit in a firm chair and stand without using your arms for balance.
- Tai chi. Try a tai chi program, which is excellent for promoting balance.
- Ankle pumping when you get out of bed. If you are prone to dizziness when rising from your bed, sit on the edge of the bed for a few seconds and pump your ankles before you stand up. Before you move, take a deep breath, get your bearings (as my grandmother would say), and then step forward. Many of us get up too quickly and start to walk too soon.