In looking at our senior population, balance is key to many activities that allow people to remain independent.
Research has determined that about 30 per cent of people over 65 years of age and living in the community fall each year, with a fifth of fall incidents requiring medical attention.
Simple tasks such as cooking, vacuuming, cleaning, shopping, and travel will require the ability to stand, reach, turn and bend down and pick up objects from the floor.
However, when the key components of balance begin to deteriorate, falls become a greater and greater risk.
Multiple interacting factors are implicated in the deterioration of balance and researchers have developed several strategies to improve balance and reduce falls.
One of the leading researchers in this field is James Judge at the University of Connecticut, who in his research, devised home-based individualized training which were found to be successful in attempting to improve identified deficits and improve clients’ physical performance, stabilization or reduced disability.
Specifically, home-based exercise programs that included low-intensity strength and balance training improved balance and reduced fall rates by about 40 per cent compared to controls — that’s significant.
Class-based exercise programs in senior centres or exercise centres have also been found to improve balance and physical performance, and some have been attributed to reduced falls in participants. Researchers have also identified programs such as tai chi and social dance, which in their eyes of fall reduction, look promising.
Researchers such as Ian Cameron, from the University of Sydney, Australia, have also found in research that vitamin D supplements reduced the rate of falls in seniors as well. In fact, some health authorities in our province have adapted vitamin D supplements in their residential care facilities.
Of course, you should always consult your medical practitioner before beginning any medication or vitamin supplement.
The take home message is that prescribed or formal exercise can be a contributing factor to maintaining balance in seniors, this can lengthen the time that seniors can remain independent and healthy. Good news indeed.
—Evan McKay works in personal training, ergonomics and corporate injury prevention.