If you were to poll older adults in senior living communities all across the country, and probably around the world, and ask them, “What is your biggest fear?” I’d wager that a good 90% of those polled would answer “falling.” Indeed, falls have extreme consequences for adults in their advanced years. To wit: One out of three adults over the age 65 have or will experience a fall at some point in their lives. That number will increase exponentially at 75, 85, etc., and the repercussions of these falls are quite serious. There are the medical costs of a lengthy hospital stay if injuries are severe, and physical therapy may be involved if rehabilitation is required. The unseen ramifications are just as dire: loss of independence due to injury, reliance on an assistive device, embarrassment if the fall happened in public. And somewhat overlooked in this list of terrible outcomes is the increased likelihood of having another fall. In senior communities or homes, if an older adult has a fall, they are fearful of going out in public. They become reclusive and stay inside more often than not. In extreme cases, they will “shut in” completely, even going so far as to order their meals/groceries delivered so they do not have to venture out of their homes. This, of course, is counterproductive in that, instead of keeping them safer, it accelerates the aging process and leads to an increased likelihood of another fall. The muscles will atrophy and the cognition will decrease, leading to poor judgment and coordination.
This is not to suggest that falls are inevitable in older adults. Far from it. Here at Robson Reserve at Sun Lakes, we hold Balance & Mobility classes twice a week to reduce our residents’ risk of falling by up to 95%! We use specialized techniques to target body control, proprioceptive conditioning, agility, walking gait, reaction time, and most importantly, leg strength and flexibility. Our participants report great improvement in their day-to-day stability and have an overall feeling of improved safety. One of my favorite intangible benefits that I hear quite often is an increased sense of confidence. Many times, falls occur because of fearfulness. Think walking with one’s head down to look at their feet while utilizing a shuffling gait. It’s common among older adults, because they believe they are being safer and more careful when, in actuality, they are much more prone to a fall due to poor posture.
In conclusion, fall prevention requires a myriad of varying strategies to keep one safe. Regular exercise to keep the legs strong is imperative, of course, but also a regular occurrence of balance-specific exercises and many other dimensions are crucial. Let’s stay vertical out there!