Sure-footed Advice for Keeping Your Balance
By Adam Cohen, Clinical Director of Rehabilitation at Northern Westchester Hospital
When you’re in your 20s, tripping over a curb usually means a scraped knee and flush of embarrassment. But that changes with age, unfortunately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), one in three people over 65 will take a tumble this year, and about two million will need to seek emergency treatment as a result. For the elderly, falls can mean a fracture, and the consequences can be dire.
How dire? One in four people who suffer a hip fracture end up in a nursing home, and one in five hip fracture patients die within a year. Considering those grim numbers, preventing falls has to be a priority for the elderly and their caretakers.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of falling is to take note of hazards at home. The majority of falls take place in the home. Remove clutter around the house: Are your hallways and walkways clear and well lit? Are thresholds and steps easy to see? Throw rugs are a common source of falls as well. If you don’t want to remove them, consider taping down the edges so you don’t catch your foot. Bifocals can also present a hazard if you wear them around the house—the reading prescription can make it difficult to focus while looking down.”
Be mindful of your footwear as well. I advise against going barefoot or just wearing socks. A supportive pair of shoes with rubber tread will provide you the best traction. And while pets provide valuable companionship, owners have to be wary that they don’t get underfoot.
You can also—literally—take steps to prevent falls through activity. Go out for regular walks around the neighborhood, and take full strides at a comfortable pace. Loss of leg strength can lead to poor balance and an inability to arrest a fall in time—something that regular walks can help correct. I also recommend Tai Chi and building leg strength and improving balance with simple home exercises, I’ve provided a list of a few exercises below.
Northern Westchester Hospital is also offering a Fall Prevention class beginning in February 2013. This innovative, three-part series will provide insight into why falls occur and teach participants strategies to prevent them. Each 45 minute session will include both lecture and exercise. The sessions are free. You can get more details and registration information by clicking here: Falls – Risks and Prevention: What You Can Do.
If after taking these steps, you’re still concerned about falling, speak with your doctor about using a cane or a walker and/or ask for a referral to a specialist.
How to Build Your Leg Strength
- Stand up and sit back down in a chair while trying not to use your hands. (Progress to 10 to 15 times a day.)
- Rise up onto your toes and then lower back down to increase calf strength.
- March in place, raising your knees as high as is comfortable.
- Practice standing with your feet close together or on one foot. Gradually increase from a few to 20-30 seconds.
Safety Tip: Have a sturdy chair or a person nearby to hold on to if you feel unsteady.
Call 914.458.8700 to learn about our Fall Prevention Class beginning in February.
Editor’s Note: The Balance Center at NWH at Chappaqua Crossing is dedicated to the diagnostic assessment of vertigo, dizziness, and imbalance which contribute to unsteadiness and falls. Specially-trained Physical Therapists use objective tests to determine a patient’s risk of falling and then develop specific treatment plans to improve balance. Visit www.nwhRehab.org