Good bal­ance and strength help decrease the risk of falling

Accord­ing to the Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol, each year, one in every three adults age 65 and old­er falls. Falling can cause mod­er­ate to seri­ous injuries, includ­ing head injuries and hip frac­tures, and can increase the risk of dying.

When an elder­ly per­son falls, they are more like­ly to be injured,” says Dr. Roy Adair, chair­man and med­ical direc­tor of the Depart­ment of Phys­i­cal Med­i­cine and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion at Advo­cate Christ Med­ical Cen­ter in Oak Lawn.

Their pro­tec­tive reflex­es are slow­er, as opposed to some­one younger, mak­ing it hard­er to pre­vent injury from afall. A younger per­son will be able to go with the flow” with a fall ver­sus tak­ing the full force on the head or the arm for example.

The mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem changes with age result­ing in loss of strength, decreased flex­i­bil­i­ty and slow­ing of reflex­es,” adds Adair. This occurs grad­u­al­ly at about a 1 per­cent loss of mea­sured abil­i­ty per year.”

The good news is falls in many instances are preventable.

It is impor­tant to real­ize that bal­ance is a skill that can be trained and improved,” says Adair. Physi­a­trists are trained to eval­u­ate func­tion­al abil­i­ties and rec­om­mend treat­ment to address the deficits iden­ti­fied. An assess­ment may result in rec­om­men­da­tions for home exer­cis­es to increase bal­ance or refer­ral to a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist for a more aggres­sive and mon­i­tored pro­gram to improve strength and balance.”

Get with the program

This health prob­lem is of con­cern to any­one who works with the senior com­mu­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly con­tin­u­ing care res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties known as CCRCs. For­tu­nate­ly, some of them are address­ing these issues head on through on-site pro­grams tai­lored to their res­i­dents. Two such com­mu­ni­ties are Green­Fields of Gene­va and Senior Star at Weber Place in Romeoville.

As we age, fit­ness is espe­cial­ly impor­tant to stay­ing healthy and active so that we’re able to com­plete every day activ­i­ties and enjoy our hob­bies,” says Judi Dono­van, Green­Fields’ exec­u­tive direc­tor. There is a strong cor­re­la­tion between strength and bal­ance, both of which in turn help tremen­dous­ly in terms of fall prevention.”

Green­Fields uti­lizes a tool called Senior LIFEsteps that eval­u­ates where peo­ple are at in terms of activ­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing. AJ Alfrey, exer­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist of Alliance Rehab (the on-site rehab/​exercise provider at Green­Fields), invites every res­i­dent to par­tic­i­pate in this assess­ment, which checks bal­ance, gait, phys­i­cal abil­i­ty, endurance and agili­ty. Alfrey also invites each res­i­dent to tour the fit­ness cen­ter dur­ing which time he explains the pro­grams and class­es. He then devel­ops an indi­vid­ual fit­ness pro­gram for their spe­cif­ic needs and goals. The res­i­dents are re-assessed after 12 weeks of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the des­ig­nat­ed program.

Alfrey says that as we age, we tend to lose low­er body mass more quick­ly than upper body mass, which rais­es our cen­ter of grav­i­ty and makes us top heavy. It’s very impor­tant to work on low­er body and core strength in order to help reduce the risk of falling,” he adds. Our legs obvi­ous­ly sup­port the rest of our body, so hav­ing strong legs makes our base of sup­port stronger.”

Alfrey says he is able to mod­i­fy a fit­ness pro­gram for any phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion or dis­abil­i­ty. We encour­age every­one to exer­cise,” he says.

Con­fi­dence builder

Senior Star recent­ly estab­lished a Falling Stars” pro­gram for the inde­pen­dent and assist­ed liv­ing res­i­dents in all 10 of its retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties across the U.S. includ­ing Weber Place in Romeoville.

Good bal­ance and strength are impor­tant as they pro­mote good cir­cu­la­tion, pre­vent mus­cle atro­phy, and assist with ambu­la­tion,” says Nate Wolf, assis­tant exec­u­tive direc­tor at Senior Star at Weber Place. The more a per­son moves around, the more con­fi­dent they feel and it helps them main­tain their independence.”

Acknowl­edg­ing that bal­ance is a grow­ing, wor­ri­some issue as peo­ple age, all res­i­dents at the com­mu­ni­ty are offered an in-house com­pli­men­ta­ry fall/​balance screen per­formed by Lega­cy Health Ser­vices. Any­one who could use strength­en­ing or bal­ance improve­ment is encour­aged to attend a program/​fitness class on balance.

The Falling Stars pro­gram is a pro­gram we start­ed to increase the strength of our res­i­dents,” says Wolf. The staff encour­ages each res­i­dent to attend an exer­cise class at 11 a.m. every day, sev­en days a week. It is staffed by a rota­tion of our nurs­ing team. They do chair exer­cis­es and exer­cis­es stand­ing up and hold­ing onto the back of the chair. It is very impor­tant to keep the calf and feet mus­cles strong in order to keep a good bal­ance for walk­ing. By meet­ing each day, it has become a social activ­i­ty as well, and the res­i­dents look for­ward to see­ing each other.”

Nev­er too late

No mat­ter one’s age, main­tain­ing strength and bal­ance is impor­tant to not only over­all health but also qual­i­ty of life.

CeCe Gra­ham, 93, has lived at Senior Star at Weber Place for near­ly two years. She was eval­u­at­ed through its in-house ther­a­py for bal­ance and strength.

After I moved in the staff saw that a need was appar­ent so they began their eval­u­a­tion process by ask­ing me to do dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties such as stand­ing, reach­ing and hold­ing still for a cer­tain amount of time,” she says.

The assess­ment showed that Gra­ham need­ed to work on both bal­ance and strength to increase her qual­i­ty of life.

The ther­a­pists would walk with me and I would use small weights to get my arms stronger,” she says.

Gra­ham’s reg­i­men includes range of motion exer­cis­es — stretch­es, rotat­ing joints, and exten­sions of arms and legs. She attends class­es sev­en days a week.

I con­tin­ue to improve every time I attend class,” she says. I get stronger and can do things more eas­i­ly for myself, such as repo­si­tion myself in the wheel­chair and I am able to assist the staff in trans­fer­ring myself out of the wheelchair.”

Although Gra­ham says she is not where she wants to be just yet, she says she has more self-con­fi­dence in her abil­i­ty to help herself.

I know I still need assis­tance from staff, but it is nice to know that they do not have to do every­thing for me,” she says. And it is fun to see the same peo­ple (in class) and it gives me some­thing to do that is good for me.”

10,000 peo­ple turn 65 every day.

—US Census Bureau