The United States is an aging nation. About 16 percent of the population is sixty-five and older, and that number is projected to increase to 23 percent by 2060. Since we live within an aging population, it’s important to empower seniors to maintain active lifestyles, minimize fall risk, and enjoy their elder years. Let’s discuss how to do this.
Reduce the risk of falling.
Falls are the leading cause of injuries for older Americans. More than one out of four Americans older than sixty-five will experience a fall each year, with 60 percent of all falls happening inside the home. Unfortunately, older adults don’t recover from falls as well as younger folks do. This can lead to more detrimental injuries that affect all aspects of life. Seniors can reduce the risk of falling through prevention programs, lifestyle adjustments, and proper screening with a physical therapist.
To reduce the risk of falling, consider these factors:
Minimize clutter. Let’s look around our living spaces – what do we see? Excessive area rugs? Cords and wires? Small toys for pets? All of these are tripping hazards. Put away stray cords, area rugs, and small items to declutter the floor.
Know your household risks. Be aware of high steps, slick floors, and uneven flooring. Practice extra caution on stairs as most staircases only have a railing on one side. Install grab bars in showers and by the toilet as assistance tools to enhance safety. Wearing shoes indoors can also be helpful.
Understand personal risk factors. Health challenges that may increase the likelihood for falls include neuropathy, dizziness, weakness, poor balance, and poor eyesight. Some prescription medications may also cause side effects that impact balance.
What about building strength?
As we age, our bodies start to show decreased muscle mass and power, decreased bone strength, reduced flexibility, lower endurance, and decreased heart function – which can result in an increased risk of injury. Strength training can help prevent or slow down some of these processes, improving muscle mass and endurance, heart health, and bone strength while decreasing an older adult’s risk of injury.
Strength training hasn’t always been addressed when talking about exercise in the senior population. But why can’t a seventy-five year old woman lift weights? In general, getting up from a chair uses the same intra-abdominal pressure as lifting twenty pounds from the counter, thirteen pounds from the ground, or walking briskly. If someone can get themselves out of a chair, they should be able to work out using fifteen to twenty pound weights. It’s hard to avoid lifting things and squatting in everyday life, so seniors who are tackling these functional activities need to work on their strength to avoid injury.
When seniors are interested in strength training, good options include: lifting dumbbell weights or barbells; using resistance bands; and doing weight-bearing exercises like squats and lunges.
How can physical therapy help?
Physical therapists are trained to perform evaluations on the musculoskeletal system, which includes looking at someone’s strength and flexibility as it pertains to fall risk. Other more specialized physical therapists can look at someone’s static and dynamic balance and find ways to optimize those systems. Other physical therapists are trained in treating dizziness and vestibular conditions which may be the reason for the falls.
Seek out a physical therapist for annual check-ups and baselines to see what you need to do to maintain or improve your strength. A physical therapist will address your static and functional strength, balance, flexibility, and your endurance to guide you through a customized program to keep you in great shape as you age.