Statistics show that falls are a leading cause of injury for people age 65 and older. “A significant percentage of seniors have balance issues,” Marcela Pouliot, physical therapist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, says, “Falling is such a prevalent issue, and it can have irreversible implications, particularly for seniors.”
It’s still important for people to remember that they can develop balance problems at any age, for many different reasons.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be struggling with balance:
- Do I have trouble walking and looking around at the same time?
- Do I rely on a wall or a chair to steady myself?
- Is it challenging to walk on grass or gravel?
“If you have any of these symptoms, tell your primary care physician, and they can arrange for you to meet with a physical therapist at the hospital to work on improving your balance,” Pouliot says. “Balance is a composite of many different systems coming together, such as posture, strength, and general flexibility,” Pouliot says. “We make sure we have exercise programs to address all these systems.”
Physical therapists start by explaining the importance of creating a safe environment at home – no area rugs, no loose cords, and plenty of lighting. Then in therapy, patients will exercise and simulate real-life situations like standing on a foam surface to mimic the feeling of standing on grass or sand. Therapists create a program based on the patient’s lifestyle and personal needs.
At the end of the therapy program, an ongoing plan is made for patients to continue working on their balance. In many cases, these exercises can be done at home. A regular, purposeful walking program is often one of the best things a person can do. But there are also several balance-specific classes and programs in the community that patients are encouraged to take advantage of.
“Tai chi classes are very effective, and are offered at many places on the Island, including the YMCA,” Pouliot says. “Senior strength training is offered at most health clubs and senior centers, and both the Y and Mansion House offer aquatic programs that help build strength.”
It can’t be overstated how important balance is to the lives of seniors in the community. Pouliot explains the extent of consequences that poor balance can cause: “If you start feeling concerned about your balance, you become more and more homebound, which can lead to a decline in the quality of your life.” It doesn’t simply prevent injury, but also allows people to maintain an active, healthy, and happy life.