Falls are a serious issue for the elderly population. Since falls lead the statistics in fatal as well as non-fatal injuries in seniors, it is important to know how to prevent them. According to the National Council on Aging, one-third of Americans over the age of 65 experience a fall each year. This statistic is frightening, but it does not mean that every aging person needs to live in fear of falling or think that it is an inevitable part of elderly life. There are many ways to prevent falls from occurring, including making adjustments in a person's lifestyle, exercising, and receiving proper care.
Lifestyle changes and the need for proper care might be easy to suggest to an elderly loved one in order to prevent falls, but exercise is a bit more complicated. However, there are specific, simple exercises that focus on leg strength which can help to prevent falls by reinforcing balance and coordination.
The Types of Exercises to Perform
Every elderly person will have unique abilities in regard to exercise, so every new exercise should be approached with caution. As with any other changes in an elderly person's life, it is a good idea to run the ideas past a doctor to ensure safety. That said, the following are some simple exercises that are likely harmless and may help improve balance and coordination and prevent falls:
- Balancing on one foot with or without holding onto an object, such as a chair
- Going from a sitting to standing position without holding on to anything
- Go from a flat foot position to standing on one's toes to increase the muscle tone in the calves
- While holding onto a chair, stretch one leg out behind and bend the knee back in towards the backside. Repeat with the other leg
- Regular walking
Each of the exercises, with the exception of walking, should be repeated at least 10 times on each side, but some people might have to work up to that number. It is best to start with the amount an elderly person can do without strain.
Building Muscle and Endurance
The basic idea behind any exercise program seniors do is to help participants build muscle and endurance, both of which can decline with age. This does not mean decline is a necessary part of aging, but studies show that people that remain inactive can lose as much as 3 to 5 percent of their muscle mass for every 10 years over the age of 30. For a 60-year old person, this could mean as much as a 15% reduction in muscle mass over the decades, which can easily lead to fragility and falls.
The primary way to prevent this loss of muscle mass is strength based training. With the use of body weight resistance or weights, the neuromuscular system can be strengthened. This type of training can also help a senior's body properly digest protein, turning it into the energy that is necessary to build up endurance.
Preventing Falls Can Save Lives
The cautionary truth is that falling could cause an elderly person premature fatality or compromise independence and thus adversely affect quality of life. Rather than letting this happen, it is important to help a loved one determine the best way to prevent falls. Because of the simplicity of the exercises and the fact that they can be performed just about anywhere, seniors can get the help they need to get strong without ever leaving their homes. Caregivers can encourage elderly persons in their care to get their exercises on a daily basis. Someone in charge of an elderly relative can encourage him or her to exercise during any visits. The most important thing is that elderly people should not perform these exercises while alone in order to ensure safety.
Every person has different abilities and will need to start in different areas and at a different pace. Some people will still have their flexibility and ability to balance and be able to handle the exercises without anything to hold onto, while others will need support until they can do the exercises on their own.
There is no shame or reason to be embarrassed about needing support in order to do leg exercises. What is most important is that the elderly person continues to progress in strengthening his or her legs and improving balance, which should help prevent present and future falls. As always, consultation with a doctor is best to deal with any questions or concerns about an elderly person's risks of falling as well as to ensure the person's ability to incorporate these exercises safely into his or her lifestyle.
LeWine, H. (October 31, 2013). Balance training seems to prevent falls, injuries in seniors. Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/balance-training-seems-to-prevent-falls-injuries-in-seniors-201310316825. Accessed on August 26, 2016.
Medline Plus. Exercises to help prevent falls. U. S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000493.htm. Accessed on August 26, 2016.
National Council on Aging. Fall Prevention Facts. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/falls-prevention-facts/. Accessed on August 26, 2016.
WebMD. Sarcopenia With Aging. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/sarcopenia-with-aging. Accessed on August 26, 2016.