Very Important Issue for Older Adults & Seniors
Postural balance is an issue that can be of concern at many different times in our lives. Dizziness, vertigo and motion sickness all occur from a disturbance in the vestibular system (the inner ear); the highly sensitive network of structures and neurons designed to send continuous, current information to the brain about where our body is in relation to our environment.
These conditions, whether chronic or temporary, make us feel uncomfortable; slightly nauseated or actually sick to our stomach, as in motion sickness – they affect our vision and orientation, or sense of the world around us. Possibly the broadest impact is that we loose our confidence to move around freely.
Scientific research has established that there is a diminishing of balance and stability as age increases. About 90% of deaths in people over 75 is as the result of a fall, usually involving a fracture or dislocation. What often follows is pneumonia, congestive heart failure or infection.
Many factors are involved. Changes in vision from age related diseases, including cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma, all affect the ability to see obstacles clearly.
In addition, older adults tend to look down as they walk, a response to their reduced self-confidence. Ironically, clinical assessments have shown that the visual area is significantly less in the lower fields, so looking down is the worst thing to do when you’re dizzy.
Decreased physical activity brought about by changes in health and or daily responsibilities result in a loss of bone density and lean muscle mass. Arthritic stiffness and pain can discourage physical activity, even though both these symptoms respond positively to mild to moderate exercise.
One of the biggest contributors to instability, is neuropathy (loss or changes in the ability to feel sensation in the feet),that occurs because of diabetes, poor circulation and/or changes in the brain. The bottom of our feet come equiped with nerve receptors that tell us if our weight is evenly distributed. That’s what signals if the rug has a toy or another object underneath it. Our step is rocky because there is an unexpected shifting of our weight.
Exercises that practice recovering our balance are as important as straight balancing exercises, because the whole body is involved in the actual motion, so strength and muscle memory are increased on a much larger scale.
All of the exercises in this section are to be practiced with safe-holds available on at least one side:
Between two tall chairs – Next to the kitchen counter – Next to a bannister or railing… you get the idea!
Exercise #1 Walk the Line
Look at the floor or surface you are standing on and draw an imaginary line, from your left toe to about 3 ft. ahead of you. Place your right foot on the line, directly in front of your left foot, as far as you are comfortable. You knees want to be able to have a soft bend in them. Steady yourself with your chair and counter top if you need to.
Standing tall, pull your abdomen in and feel where your body weight is. It should be primarily on your left foot (the one in back).
Making sure your head and neck are directly over your spine, and as close to the center of your stance as you can manage, come up on your back (left) toe. Hold up for a moment and breathe deeply, then lower your heel and repeat this 4 to 6 times. Do not look down, focus your gaze straight ahead of you, preferably on an object you can concentrate on.
Now slowly shift your weight onto your front (right) foot, keeping the knee softly bent, and pick up your left foot and place it directly in front of your right foot – on the imaginary line. Now repeat the process. Get your weight onto your back foot(right), and come up onto your toe. Repeat the heel lift and lower 4 to six times, breathing deeply. Congratulations, you’ve successfully “Walked the Line “.