Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is credited with coining the enduring empowerment chestnut, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” Unfortunately, some seniors are likely to fall regardless of what they stand for, because standing itself is difficult — not in terms of their views, but weak limbs.
Life is a question of balance, as the Moody Blues sang, though they probably weren’t referring to aging bone and muscle. The challenge is, many older adults perceive themselves as decades younger than their chronological age, which is wonderful for emotional health, but for physical well being, not so much.
One concerned middle-aged man reports, “Extremely elderly people seem to lose their balance easily. I have had to catch or steady my 98-year-old mother-in-law several times, and make it a point of staying close by when she is walking…even when she has a cane in her hand. Many older people feel they do not need to use their walkers in their own homes, or forget to use any aid and hold onto the walls or furniture, or reach up without support. That is when many falls occur.”
He is spot on. As we discussed in this post on home safety, over half of those 80 or older fall every year. Even if a senior falls and is uninjured, if he or she can’t get back on their feet, they’re in trouble.
Fitter Than A Fiddle
Staying in shape is one smart solution — and has benefits beyond fall prevention, regardless of age. An old friend of mine developed adult-onset diabetes in his fifties due to excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle — even though he’s a physician! After a horrific motorcycle accident earlier this year, which necessitated protracted time in bed, he lost 70 pounds and began an intensive physical therapy program to regain the use of his limbs — the combination of which reversed his diabetes.
Nutrition is also crucial, and a senior need not be a world-class chef, or much of a cook at all, to glean the benefits of good nutrition for strong, flexible joints and a healthy mind. This basic biological wisdom from ethnobotanist and medical biochemist Diana Beresford-Kroeger, 73, demonstrates how simple changes can build stronger, healthier bodies.
Of course, beyond the sage counsel nature and common sense provide, our digital age is streaming bionic breakthroughs almost as fast as we can now stream movies.
British researchers have developed an AI-based algorithm that learns new types of activity as they occur, enabling a wearable “to differentiate between walking, running, sitting, standing, cycling, even brushing one’s teeth or preparing dinner. This mHealth tool could make activity tracking more precise, giving providers more incentive to use them in remote monitoring and care management programs.” Device makers such as Apple and Fitbit have been slowly bridging that gap with fitness bands and smartwatches that track more activities and vital signs and sync them with care management apps.
Even more futuristic-fantastic: Researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed a 3D-printed synthetic tissue that can act as active muscle! In addition to being able to push, pull, bend and twist, it can carry 1000 times its own weight, something even a world-class bodybuilder would likely find challenging.
Stand for Something
While we wait for the future to be available to all, your reverse mortgage clients, prospects, and other older adults in your sphere can start improving their balance today with these simple suggestions, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center:
- Get screened. A bone density test can help catch bone loss early.
- Get your eyes checked. Some people fall because they can’t see well. Make sure living areas are well lit, and carry a flashlight if you’re outside after dark.
- Get moving. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, weight training, dancing, and climbing stairs help maintain healthy bones and muscles.
- Be sneaky. Rubber-soled or nonslip shoes that are comfortable, sturdy, and fit well are the best footwear choices.
- Use skid-proof backing on all carpets and area rugs.
- Install handrails on both sides of stairwells. Be sure they are firmly fastened in place.
- Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower to improve stability on slick or wet surfaces.
- Choose sofas and chairs with arms for ease of getting up or sitting down.
- Review medications with your doctor or pharmacist to learn about any potential side effects that could lead to a fall. Blood pressure pills, heart medicines and diuretics (water pills) may increase the risk of falling.
- Remove tripping hazards. Keep floors free of papers, books, shoes, and clothing. Tape down or move electrical or telephone cords.
Seniors may want to check with their local senior center or library about low-cost or even free balance classes. My town’s public library is currently offering a no-cost 8-week structured group on Thursday mornings focused on steadiness and stability that “emphasizes practical strategies to reduce fear of falling and increase activity levels.”