How Does Your Balance Stack Up?
We all know the importance of a balanced lifestyle, but literal balance, the kind that keeps us up on our feet and prevents us from falling over, is something that is often taken for granted until we lose it.
The complex combination of visual, inner ear, and muscular systems often becomes compromised as we age. This can lead to trips, slips, and worst of all, falls. These falls can be dangerous for older adults, especially if bone health has started to decline.
How to Know If Your Balance is Compromised
First of all, it’s important for you (or for your parent or grandparent) to answer these 9 questions:
- Do you find yourself rolling your ankles frequently when running or walking/hiking?
- Have you tripped, lost your balance, or fallen in the past few months while performing regular daily tasks? How often?
- Do you experience dizziness?
- Are you on medications that may make you dizzy or sleepy, especially multiple medications (e.g. benzodiazepines, psychotropics, class 1a anti-arrhythmic medications, digoxin, diuretics, sedatives)?
- Do you have a medical condition that may make you confused, reduce your joint mobility or that may cause decreased sensation in your limbs (e.g. circulatory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, arthritis, thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, etc.)?
- Are you over the age of 65?
- Do you have visual impairments?
- Are you mostly sedentary throughout the day?
- Do you find that your walking speed has slowed, and you have trouble getting around in the community? (For example, getting across the street during a walk signal)?
If you answered yes to a few of these questions, you may be at increased risk of falling. In general, a person is at higher risk the older they are, the more medical conditions they have, the more medications they take, and the less active they are.
An Easy Balance Self-Test at Home
A simple test of balance is to stand at your kitchen counter and balance on one leg without holding onto anything with your eyes open. See how long you can stand on one foot. It’s important during this test to avoid having your raised leg touch your standing leg during the test.
Important: If you find yourself being unable to keep your balance on one foot for 10 seconds then you may be at higher risk for falls.
There are definitely more advanced static balance tests that can be performed. This can include testing your balance on different surfaces, adding head movements and keeping your eyes closed.
Another area of balance is called dynamic balance. This is how well you can keep balance while moving/walking. Generally this is better tested formally by a physiotherapist if you’re concerned about your balance.
Ways to Improve Your Balance
So how can you improve balance and help prevent falls? The best way is to address each contributing system, as well as work on the balance system as a whole. This means working on strength, mobility, the vestibular system, addressing any visual impairments if possible, then putting it all together and doing some strict balance work.
A physiotherapist can develop a specific program for you or the older adults in your life. They can identify areas of weakness and create a personalized program specific to your goals.
There are a few things that can be done on your own to work on balance as well. Remember, the key is daily practice to see improvements with your balance:
- Practice at home: start slow and practicing standing on one leg, with eyes open and a sturdy counter or couch to hold onto for support.
- Eventually you may progress to single leg standing on a pillow, eyes closed, and / or hands-free.
- You may even want to get a wobble board to play on. You can try simply balancing, or try to shift side to side. Be safe and make sure you are confident that you will not get hurt.
You may also want to consider signing up for a community program, such as a senior’s exercise class, aquatic aerobics, Tai Chi, or yoga. Signing up with a friend can be a good way to stay accountable and have more fun.
A little effort towards prevention will go a long way in improving your balance.
Physiotherapists are trained to help people improve balance so falls can be avoided.
Book an appointment with one of Innovation Physical Therapy’s experienced physiotherapists by calling one of our 6 clinics located throughout Edmonton and Sherwood Park including Riverbend, Meadowlark, Belvedere, Namao, Sherwood Park or our newest clinic in West Henday.
World Health Organization, World Health Organization. Ageing, & Life Course Unit. (2008). WHO global report on falls prevention in older age. World Health Organization.