Aging in place is a balancing act that begins with exercise
The level of comfort that we felt with our balance when we were younger or more fit or both can go away as we age. And when it does, we put ourselves at risk of falling. I cannot remember the last time my doctor saw me standing on my feet. The nurse does of course but the doctor visits with me while he and I sit in a chair. Some balance issues don’t show up even when doctors are specifically looking for balance disorders. So you may spend years slowly losing a skill you are taking for granted will be there when you need it only to discover it isn’t there.
Falls are the leading cause of injury in individuals over the age of 65 in the U.S. Someone dies every 30 minutes from injuries due to falls. We begin to see balance issues in our 40s, although they can start as early as in our 30s. This is at least in part due to a change in how we achieve balance. The brain takes information from three different places: the visual world; the inner ear (called the vestibular); and from a sense of where our body is. As we age, people quit relying as much on the vestibular system and put more faith in the visual system. However, the visual system isn’t as quick as the vestibular system and the result is that we get a bit shaky. For some people that inability to trust their balance eventually leads to a sedentary life. A sedentary life causes you to lose more of your sense of balance and more of your ability to take advantage of those other systems and your balance gets worse. The result can be a deadly downward cycle. According to the World Health Organization, inactivity is at least as deadly to the world’s population as smoking.
The solution is to start exercising. Exercising can make those three systems work harder to help you keep your balance and they get better at it as a result. This article on Taking a Balance Test suggests some exercises specifically to help your balance but pretty much making a point to get up and move around will help you to increase your balance and your level of security about moving around.
Being able to maintain your balance and move independently allows you to continue to live independently. The need to look to others for being able to perform activities of daily living can put you in danger of needing outside help or even institutional help.
Please remember that if it has been awhile since you’ve been active or if you take medications, it is advisable to consult a doctor before beginning any exercise program. A professional trainer or an occupational therapist may then be needed to plan the different stages of exercises to build up strength gradually.