While balance and agility matter at any age, they can become crucial as we age. Why? Falls in adults can set up a host of problems, as these articles explain:
Joint stiffness can also limit our movements and contribute to the risk of falling, but ironically, often the best thing for uncooperative or sore joints is to keep moving - carefully!
Also see the section on Caring for Someone with a Mobility Problem in this series for more information on home assessments, tools, and helping people with mobility issues safely.
Taking care of our feet is another way to make sure we have secure footing.
Dizziness (or vertigo) can also make us fall. There are many possible causes for vertigo: dehydration, low blood pressure, medical conditions, or as a side effect from many medications (including decongestants and other over-the-counter products). If you're often dizzy and wonder why, here are some common reasons -- talk with your health care team to figure out whether any of these are the cause.
Several factors can make us at risk for a fall, as these sources explain. Tripping hazards - at home, in our neighborhoods, at work - can set anyone up for a fall. But so can a limited range of motion or muscle weakness from old injuries or illness. Also commonly-used medications can interfere with balance or make us feel dizzy. Here are some questions to assess risk for falling:
Besides assessing personal risk for falling, assess home and/or office environments for hazards that could cause a serious fall.
The resources listed on our webpage for Caring at Home, including the assessments and checklists, may also be helpful.
The good news is that making changes within our control - lifestyle, simple home improvements, and mobility tools - can make significant differences to our risk of a dangerous fall.
Despite all our best efforts to fall-proof our homes and ourselves - still, falls happen. Now what? (Hint: it's a good idea to practice getting back up again, as in the video below).
Improving Balance, Mobility, Flexibility and Strength
When balance gets shaky, muscles have weakened, or range of motion narrows, exercise can be the first line of improvement. There are literally thousands of sources for senior exercise and fitness advice; the following are good places to start.
To improve balance:
Recommended exercises for balance, flexibility, and strength:
If you are looking for classes to improve balance and mobility, this locator map may be useful:
When deciding what kind of physical activity to try, the most important factor is how much you enjoy it (because that means you're more likely to do it). Some types of exercise to consider are:
Tai ch'i and Qi Gong are often recommended for multiple benefits, from improving balance to mental agility and better mood.
Gentle yoga offers benefits too (especially for arthritis) when practiced carefully as explained in these resources:
Water exercises, swimming and pool aerobics can be particularly good for people with balance, mobility, or strength issues.
Even people with mobility problems can benefit from exercises like these:
Canes, crutches, and braces are as old as humankind. Some tips for using these effectively:
There's also a large market for technological tools and apps to monitor falls or send medical alerts - see the sections on technology tools in the Caregiving Basics and Caring at Home guides for links.
KQED's article "Preventing seniors from falling is going to be a huge market" from November 2017 gives an overview of new technologies available.
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