Balance Training in the Older Adult
Most people take balance for granted, assuming that navigation occurs without effort, thinking or fear. When a child falls, he is able to shake it off and continue moving. When an older adult falls, however, there are often consequences. Sometimes a broken bone might be the result. A broken bone limits mobility, which can lead to a general decline in health. Thousands of older Americans die each year as the result of a broken hip due to a fall. Even if a recovery is made from a broken bone, a resulting decrease in confidence and independence can still occur.
Structured exercise with balance training helps to reduce falls and to maintain independence. Balance training exercises involve stretching and strengthening muscles while challenging balance. These exercise programs allow an increase in reaction time and improved coordination. Exercise programs also contribute to stronger bones and an increase in muscle bulk, which can protect bones and joints. Better brain function always occurs with physical stimulation and may allow for clearer thinking and the ability to avoid situations that increase fall risk.
Many exercise classes are available in the community to improve fitness and balance. Always check with your doctor before starting a new class, however. If balance is impaired significantly, initiating balance training with a physical therapist is the safest and most beneficial approach. Home health organizations, outpatient therapy clinics, and rehab centers such as Mount St. Joseph Rehab Center in Euclid, have the therapy staff available to provide these services.
Heidi Shenk has been a physical therapist for more than 24 years. She has recently moved to the Cleveland area from Stockholm, Sweden and is now working as the Director of Marketing for Mount St. Joseph Rehab Center.