Balance exercises to prevent falls
Posted on 12 January 2017
A biokineticist discusses the challenges of balance for older people and provides some practical solutions.
As far as everyday life for the elderly goes, unsteadiness on foot and diminishing coordination are a constant cause for concern. Whether climbing stairs or simply walking around at home, basic balance is a challenge that increases with age. However, various preventative measures can improve balance and reduce the risk of injury.
‘Our ability to balance actually starts diminishing from the age of 25,’ says Ansoné Hugo, a Kimberley-based biokineticist. ‘Lack of coordination and proprioception are common, particularly in the elderly, but can be correctable depending on the cause.’
Proprioception is our ability to maintain equilibrium through the body’s visual, sensory and vestibular (inner ear) systems. The ability to balance while standing on one foot is one example, and the difficulty of this simple exercise increases if one’s eyes are closed.
Ansoné lists these key factors in decreased balancing ability:
- various medications
- low or high blood pressure
- history of stroke
She adds that emotional aspects also play a crucial role. ‘Loneliness and fear of falling are perhaps two of the most prevalent limiters in improving balance among the elderly,’ she explains. ‘Having somebody to engage with, confide in or simply talk to about individual challenges is a therapy in itself. Human contact is everything.’
While each patient is unique, a typical consultation would involve a set format. Ansoné explains that compiling a comprehensive case history is critical for making an accurate assessment and formulating an effective therapy plan.
‘A full personal profile is built, taking into account the patient’s injury history, symptoms and so on. Muscle length and strength are tested, as well as range of motion. A postural analysis is performed together with a cardiovascular disease risk profile. Only then can a proper diagnosis be made and an exercise programme be prescribed.’
Ansoné recommends the following simple exercises for improving balance:
- Stand on one foot while holding onto a firm object such as a pole. As confidence and skill increases, one can progress to performing this exercise unaided.
- Walking barefoot in a heel-to-toe manner is another effective way of improving coordination. Focus on short steps and feeling the ground under your feet.
- Leg extensions and straight-leg raises are an excellent way to stimulate the stabiliser muscles. Simple core exercises also help strengthen weak gluteal muscles and improve posture.
These exercises would initially be done with the aid of a biokineticist, but Ansoné encourages self-direction in taking the next step. ‘Most of the exercises I prescribe can be done at home,’ she says. ‘Once proper instruction is completed and confidence is increased, each and every patient can benefit further from performing these exercises unaided.’