About one-third of all adults age 65 and older take a fall of some sort each year. Most of these are fortunately minor, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) reports that about 700,000 adults every year end up hospitalized with head injuries or broken bones as a result of falling. While we tend to think of loss of balance as a “senior problem,” it actually begins much earlier, and it’s something every one of us should be paying attention to.
This is according to this recent article on the website of USA Today. It reveals that loss of balance actually begins when we’re in our 50’s, and unless we take steps to retain our strength, we may be setting ourselves up for a fall – literally. The article lists several simple exercises you can start doing now to help you maintain strength, balance and agility as you age, all of which will help greatly as you get older.
The USA Today article starts out with a simple test: see how long you can stand on one foot without assistance. The ideal length of time is one minute, which is about how long most thirty and forty-somethings can manage it. But a recent research study showed that people in their 50’s managed to stand on one foot for an average of about 45 seconds; for people in their 60’s the average was 40 seconds; and for those in their 70s the average time dropped to less than 30 seconds. By the time you get to be over 80 you’re considered average if you can stand on one foot for just 12 seconds. This test shows that balance starts to decline in midlife.
Scientists involved with the research into loss of balance called this study “a real wake-up call,” according to USA Today. Right now the current exercise guidelines put out by the federal government only call for balance training for older adults who are at greater risk of falling. This research suggests that just about everyone should be intentionally working on improving their balance, starting in middle age. “You should be thinking about balance before you have a fall,” said one researcher, a professor of medicine at Duke University.
Researchers also uncovered another troubling aspect of loss of balance: once a person becomes unsteady or actually experiences a fall, the fear of another one begins to become a real problem. One scientist who took part in the study put it this way. “People start to limit their activity because they are afraid they might fall,” she said. “That can have a huge impact on quality of life. You are afraid to walk up and down stairs, so all of a sudden you can’t go to the movie theater anymore.” As other studies have shown, this fear of being vulnerable can lead to isolation, which in turn can literally be deadly for many seniors.
So what’s the solution? It’s prevention. The article in USA Today lists a few simple exercises you can start doing immediately to improve balance, strength and agility. Here are a few:
• Practice standing on one foot
• Practice getting into and out of a chair without using your hands
• Try tai chi or yoga to improve balance.
Of course, if you’ve already experienced a fall or other loss of balance, don’t try any of these without consulting with your health care provider first. This is another reason we strongly recommend you have a geriatric physician, or geriatrician, on your health care team. He or she will understand the unique medical needs associated with aging and will be able to give you the most appropriate counsel for your situation. If you like, we can refer you to a geriatrician in your area – simply call our office and we’ll gladly assist you.
Good medical advice is important – but retirement planning has many facets. For personalized, appropriate counsel concerning all aspects retirement, we’re ready to assist you. Here at AgingOptions our specialty is a comprehensive approach to retirement that we call LifePlanning. It’s a unique plan that encompasses your housing choices, your medical needs, your financial security, your legal affairs and your family communications. With a LifePlan in place, you’ll be able to enjoy a secure and fruitful retirement, knowing that your assets are protected, you won’t become a burden to your loved ones, and you’ll be much less likely to face unplanned institutional care. Your LifePlan becomes your road map to the retirement you’ve always hoped for.
Why not take the next step and find out more? Come to a free LifePlanning Seminar in your area. For dates, times and online registration, click on the Upcoming Events tab, or call us during business hours. There’s no obligation – just the chance to see what stress-free retirement planning looks like. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon.
(originally reported at www.usatoday.com)