Seniors struggle with a variety of problems that can have a negative impact on their ability to remain steady on their feet.
These problems include: decreased muscle mass, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, low and high blood pressure, heart disease, infections, some prescription medication, and stress.
People who have trouble maintaining their balance have an increased risk for falling. This can be a particularly dangerous situation for older adults.
In the United States, one in three adults aged 65 and older falls each year. Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries and increase their risk of early death, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, when it comes to serious injuries, more than 90 percent of hip fractures are caused by falls.
Regularly doing a few gentle, at-home exercises may help your elderly loved one enhance their coordination and decrease their risk of falling.
The following movements should be done next to a person, chair, or railing, that can be used for balance in case your loved one becomes unsteady. A senior should not engage in exercises that seem overly challenging, unless they have been given the go-ahead by their doctor.
Here are five quick exercises that a senior can do to improve their balance:
- Tightrope walk: Just like a tightrope walker in a circus, this exercise requires elders to hold arms straight out from their sides, parallel to the floor. With arms positioned like this, ask your loved one to try walking in a straight line, pausing for one or two seconds each time he or she lifts their back leg off of the ground. Have them take between 15 and 20 steps this way. While they walk, tell them to try looking at a spot in front of them to keep the head straight and help maintain balance.
- Rock the boat: For this exercise, your loved one should begin by placing their feet hip-width apart. Instruct them to make sure that each foot feels like it's pressing into the ground with the same amount of force. This will ensure that their weight is evenly distributed across both legs. With their shoulders back and their head level, tell them to slowly transfer their weight to one side, lifting the opposite foot off of the ground. They should try and hold their leg off the ground for as long as they comfortably can, but no longer than 30 seconds. Then, instruct them to slowly transfer their weight back onto both feet and repeat the process on the opposite side. They can initially try to repeat this process five times on each side, eventually working their way up to more repetitions as they begin to feel more comfortable with the exercise.
- Toe the line: Also known as the "heel-toe" walk, this exercise involves placing the heel of one foot so that it's touching the toes of the other foot. Your loved one may or may not be able to get the heel and toes to totally touch, but that's fine, just encourage them to try and get the heel and toes as close as they comfortably can. Tell them to try and take between 15 and 20 steps in that same manner—touching the heel of their front foot to the toes of their back foot. As with the tightrope walk, you'll want to instruct them to keep their eyes fixed on a point in front to remain stable.
- Flamingo stand: This one is pretty simple—your loved one is basically just standing on one leg while holding on to the back of a chair. They can start off standing on one leg for ten seconds, and then repeating that five to ten times. Once they've done that, tell them to do the same thing on the other leg. Your loved one may find that it's less taxing to stand on one particular leg than it is to stand on the other—this is normal. It's important to remind your loved one to try and maintain good posture (shoulders, back, head straight, ears over your shoulders) as much as they can while doing this exercise. Once they've mastered the simplest form of this exercise, tell them to try reaching the foot that is off the ground as far out in front of them as they can without letting it come in contact with the ground.