Is your balance starting to slip?
By Jeff Samyn, PT, OCS,CSCS
It may surprise you to learn that 30-60 percent of people over 60 living outside of care facilities will fall in a given year.
In fact, according to the CDC, over 1.6 million people visited emergency rooms due to falling in 2012.
The consequences of a fall can be severe, so I like to advise my patients over the age of 60 to make some balance exercises part of their regular fitness routine.
But how do you know if your balance is starting to slip? Here are a few easy tests to try.
The single-leg stance test has been shown to be one of the best predictors of fall risk. The following are the average time (in seconds) that people who have not fallen could stand on one foot at various ages.
50-59 y/o — 40 seconds 60-69 y/o — 27 seconds 70-79 y/o —17 seconds 80-99 y/o — 9 seconds
Every little bit an individual performs under the age-based norms, the more their fall risk increases.
This applies to being more likely to catch your feet on something such as a loose rug as well as being less able to make a recovery if you stumble.
Another quick and easy balance test is to stand with one foot in front of the other and the arms across the chest.
This is called the Sharpened Rhomberg test, and people of all ages should be able to hold each foot position for at least 30 seconds.
Unfortunately, most falls occur in the home, mainly because that is where we spend the majority of our time.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling at home. Here is a quick checklist for the home if you or someone you care about is having a balance issues:
• Remove rugs or at least use double-sided tape to keep them from curling up or sliding.
• Clear a path. The more things you have to walk around between rooms, the more dangerous.
• Be sure that cords cables are not stretched across walking areas. If they are, look into covering them up.
• Use night-lights to keep your path to the restroom visible at night.
• All stairs in the home should have at least 1 handrail, and you should always keep your hand on it when going up and down.
• Put a non-skid pad in the shower, and consider adding some grab bars as well.
• Be more aware of your balance when pets are in your personal space. Tripping over a dog or cat is one of the most common reasons people fall in their homes.
Finally, there is one more big step you can take to reduce your risk of falling, and that is to keep your body strong and flexible. It only takes 2-3 days/week of weight training and balance work to maintain and improve your physical capability. It is usually a good idea to check with your doctor first if you haven’t been exercising. If you have been participating in a regimen, check with your physical therapist to make sure your program matches your goals.
Jeff Samyn is a Physical Therapist, Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. firstname.lastname@example.org
This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.