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Have you ever lost your footing on wet or icy pavement causing you to fling your arms in the air and sending your heart into high gear?
If you have then you know how frightening loosing your balance can be.
Ordinarily we take our balance for granted, but it is an important and vital part of our daily life.
As many as 28% to 45% of elders fall each year due to elderly balance decline as we age.
Though our balance will decline as we age, balance activities, elderly balance exercises and elderly balance training can limit the loss or actually improve our performance.
Most common reasons seniors fall
- Your vision may decrease which can lead to falls due to not seeing clearly.
- Your hips and legs can become weaker making it harder to walk.
- We can develop poor posture or have spinal degeneration making it harder to stand erect.
- Our ability to lift our feet decreases and we can stumble.
- It takes longer to react when something is in our way causing us to fall.
- Many drugs interact causing dizziness or decrease balance.
- Low blood pressure can lead to light-headedness increasing our risk of falls.
That is why beginning a balance program for elderly and seniors which incorporates strength training, endurance training and balance training is essential in maintaining and promoting good balance.
When we rise from a chair, climb stairs and walk outside on uneven terrain there is cooperation between the brain, nervous system, muscles and bones which help keep us from falling.
The secret of good elderly balance: Know the three essential balance elements
1. Sensory information from your eyes
Visual cues come from our eyes and tell us all sorts of information about our environment. Our eyes help us see and prepare for potential dangers and obstacles which can prevent falls.
2. Sensory information from your vestibular system
The inner ear also contains a fluid-filled semicircular canal which gives us important information on the position of our head and its movement in space in relation to gravity
3. Sensory information from your joints
Sensory feedback from your ankles, knees and hips, helps keep us upright and stable as we walk, run, or dance.
When all these systems are working together automatically with our musculoskeletal system we can stay active and independent, preventing falls and improving your elderly balance.
Can I keep or regain my balance?
Here is the light at the end of the tunnel.
I especially like working with the elderly and seniors on balance simply because it is a skill that many of us can keep during our adult life.
Though there are often many factors involved with decreased balance as we age, a lot of this decline is simply due to our inactivity.
This can usually be improved with training.
This training will involve improving your overall upper and lower body strength along with challenging your balance system daily with activities that require you to use the three systems I spoke of above.
Notice anything similar?
When I talk to seniors about balance, I use the example of how a tennis player’s posture is similar to our posture as we age. Why?
If you play tennis you know that there is a server and a receiver. Think of how the receiver stands. Feet wide apart, knees and hips flexed, upper body leaning forward.
Players use this posture because it is the most “ready for action” position they can get into in order to react to the serve.
It is a very stable and safe position.
That is usually also our choice as we age…finding the safest most balanced position.
Unfortunately, when we make this choice, our balance system is poorly challenged and our brain begins to become lazy.
Our brain says, “Well, Mary just doesn’t need all that balance anymore. I’ll start turning off some balance switches.”
Oh…to be young again!
Here is another example. Have you ever watched women’s gymnastics on the TV?
Have you ever wondered how a 16 year old young woman can jump onto a 4 inch wide beam way up in the air and do a hand stand or flip?
Do you think any 16 year old young women could do that? Well the answer is “no”.
Someone who does not practice this level of balance cannot perform these activities. (Yes, even if they are 16 years old!)
They will fall off the beam and embarrass themselves for sure!
Well, like anything else in life it is about practice.
There is a saying you may have heard but I put it in a different way.
“Practice makes PER…MANENT”.
If you are practicing something wrong, it will be permanently wrong.
Are you practicing sitting in your recliner?
Come on, be honest.
If you are, then you will certainly get better at sitting in your recliner!
Start practicing balance exercises. There are plenty on our site. Just keep reading…
- These exercises are intended for normal imbalance and unsteadiness in seniors as they age due to inactivity and disuse.
- Make sure you check with your doctor if you suspect a more serious balance problem involving vertigo, ear infections, Meniere’s disease, chronic dizziness or drug interactions.
- If you are working with a senior with poor balance or the frail elderly, make sure they are closely supervised at all times.
- Progress to the next exercise when the preceding one can be done safely or if you have enough assistance.
- Be aware of your posture. Try to maintain your weight over your ankles.
- Avoid fast movements including quick turns or changes in position.
- Use a chair as a place to not only perform seated exercise but also to hold on to while standing. Hold on with your finger, one hand or two hands.
- Always get up slowly when rising from a chair.
- Don’t close your eyes when exercising or standing at your chair.
- If you are taking medications, ask your doctor if there are any side effects which may cause light-headedness or decreased balance.
The basic piece of equipment you will need is an armless chair. Usually a kitchen or dining room chair is just fine. This will give you confidence while performing your elderly balance exercises. Always keep the chair close by. It provides a great place to rest after exercising!
Smooth Bottom Shoes
Try not to wear shoes with tacky rubber or trail type shoes. These will catch on the carpet and floor which may result in tripping. I like a dance type shoe, one with a leather bottom. These allow a catch-free step. A dance shoe will also come in handy when you begin your dance class!
A kitchen counter to hold on to. This is a great place to walk when you are just beginning your balance exercise program. Simply hold on to the counter with one hand for balance while you step forward, sideways etc. Even if your counter is only a few feet long, just turn around and start again. Maybe you will be inspired to start cooking again!
Object to step over
I like children’s stuffed animals or slippers. Make sure they are not over 6 inches high. That’s all you need to step over during your stepping exercises. Don’t get too ambitious and use that large stuffed panda bear!
Can’t walk in a straight line? No problem. Take some handy painters tape, place a line of it down your hallway or in your living room. In our videos you will notice I have placed a piece of masking tape on the floor to follow along with. It is especially helpful with sideways movements as these are the hardest to remain straight when performing elderly balance exercises. Make sure you have some handy when you need to take a sobriety test!
Arm and ankle weights
To get more of a workout you may use ankle or wrist weights. Don’t use more than one or two pounds for either your legs or arms. More weight than this may lead to shoulder injury due to holding your arm out away from your body. Who needs a gym!
Something to read
A sheet of paper or a note pad is a great item to add challenge to you walking exercises. As you will see in the video, try to walk while gazing at the paper. This advanced elderly balance exercise will improve your ability to walk comfortably in the supermarket or at the mall. Just don’t charge too much!
Lastly we need YOU! This means that you can do it. I know you can. I have had every balance situation in my profession as a physical therapist. Remember to exercise everyday. ‘Practice makes….permanent!’ You will get better at whatever you practice every day. So don’t practice sitting on the couch anymore!
Elderly balance exercises are challenging!
Don’t try these senior and elderly balance exercises alone if you are uncomfortable about these exercises or are unsure of your ability to complete them.
Start slowly with the first exercise until you become used to the new experience of stressing your balance system.
It is not a race to the finish.
You may be comfortable only performing the first few balance exercises and not be comfortable doing the moving and walking exercises.
That is ok! Really!
Never do something that you are nervous about by yourself.
Much better to have a helpful, stable person around to make you more confident and secure. What else are family members for?
Caution: Make sure you check with your doctor if you suspect a more serious balance problem involving vertigo, ear infections, Meniere’s disease, chronic dizziness or drug interactions.
Before You Start
Elderly balance exercises are fun but they can also be challenging.
Make sure you have a stable family member on hand when you begin to practice these exercises.
You will be more confident in performing the exercises and having a helping hand to hold will allow you to better focus on maintaining your balance as you get used to the exercises.
“Hey, uncle Charlie, can you hold on to me while I practice these silly exercises?”
Let’s get started!
I have made 12 elderly and senior balance exercise videos for you to view below.
The exercises below are a sampling of some basic balance exercises we use in Physical Therapy.
The exercises progress in difficulty from beginning to end.
If you use a cane or walking is difficult, make sure someone is with you for support. (Uncle Charlie!)
Remember, elderly and senior balance training can be a fun activity but will only show benefits if it is done regularly with the correct focus.
“Practice makes PERMANENT.”
Practice one exercise every day for optimal results.
So get a stable family member, your chair, place it in a clear spot in your living room.
Put on your smooth bottom shoes and let’s begin the beguine!
- A great place to begin is with the simplest standing balance exercise. Hold on to a chair and balance on one leg.
- This is a great place to begin to feel your center of gravity over your ankles. This is your goal, maintaining your center over your ankles.
- Try a few seconds balancing on each foot. Work up to a minute if you can. Then begin to hold on with one hand, then one finger and finally try to let go completely.
2. Eye tracking
- Move on to the other exercises with static standing exercises as you gain confidence including this exercise which targets your vision and vestibular system.
- This exercise can sometimes make you dizzy. If this happens, stop the exercise. Try it again with smaller head movements next time.
- Gradually you will learn to do it correctly.
3. Clock reach
- Make sure to hold on to a chair when attempting this exercise to prevent falls in the elderly. Don’t reach back too far if you have pain in your shoulder.
- (Use your one pound wrist weight here to increase your workout.)
- Also hold on to a chair when trying this exercise for elderly balance problems. Let go of the chair for a few seconds at a time if you feel comfortable.
- Look up from your feet when balancing and pick a spot at eye level in front of you to improve falls in elderly. Lift your chest and bring your shoulders back.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
- This is a fun exercise and easy to do. Use a cane, broom or even an umbrella. Don’t have too much fun with these balance exercises for elderly!
- Try this one next to a counter so you can hold on when performing knee marching. This is also a great cardio exercise and for leg muscle weakness.
8. Body circles
- This exercise for improving balance can be a little tricky. Keep a chair nearby if you are uncomfortable without one. Make sure your knees and hips are kept straight when you circle.
9. Heel to toe
- The moving exercises are the most difficult. Only try this balance exercise when you have become good at the preceding exercises.
- (If you have masking or painters tape, place an 8 to 12 foot piece in a straight line on the carpet or floor. This will allow you to maintain a straighter line when performing the walking exercises.)
- Seniors who dance will be more familiar with these balance exercises. Try it in your kitchen holding on to the counter.
- Walk several steps in one direction, turn around and walk back. Continue for several minutes. Gradually hold on less and less until you can take a few steps without holding on.
- It may take a while, but keep practicing…you’ll get it sooner or later!
- This series of stepping exercises are very challenging. You may have a stable family member demonstrate these for you first.
12. Dynamic walking
- Try these only when you feel confident and have a helper in the home.
- Give them a try when you are stronger and more sure of yourself. These exercises are great to do with someone else.
- Holding hands with a stable family member will make these exercises easier and safer. (This is where you may use your pad of paper or a small book when walking.)