Seniors, Exercise, and Preventing Falls
Once again a fall. This time it is a friend’s mother who fell, and today I heard that her mother’s health is continuing to decline. Senior falls are frustrating and sad, occurring frequently and causing physical problems, discomfort, outright pain, and unhappiness.
Over the last four months I keep returning to the topic of seniors and falling — because falls keep happening to the parents of people around me. This Centers for Disease Control fact sheet gives more information.
While all falls cannot be prevented, many of them can be. Successful prevention requires the juxtaposition of factors – rearranging furniture and rugs into safer configurations, getting a senior parent to buy into these changes so they become permanent, keeping a parent active with exercise sessions and regular walking, and encouraging a parent to get balance assessments. It also requires the senior parent to be flexible about environmental changes. The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence has lots of useful information about these assessments including a number of demonstration videos.
Public health experts and researchers tell us that not only is exercise good, but also that it functions –almost — as a medicine, one that makes a person feel better and stronger with few side effects. Moreover, exercise helps to improve balance.
Exercise is critical for seniors. According to the Medline Plus site at the National Library of Medicine seniors, just like everyone else, need four types of exercise, but it is even more critical for seniors because of the potential for falls. They need:
- Endurance exercise to help keep the heart strong.
- Strengthening activities to build muscle or keep muscle strong
- Stretching for flexibility
- Balancing activities to help prevent falls
When my husband’s mother, a stroke survivor, moved from South Carolina to live near us, she was used to walking more than a mile each day. Most of this involved going back and forth across campus to the dining room, the retirement community library, or the office for xeroxing. But her regular walking was exercise, and she did a lot of it. In addition, Mother regularly climbed the stairs in her four-story building. In her new community, for whatever reason (unfamiliarity of terrain, shyness, difficulty finding the exercise room) she stopped moving nearly as much as she had been previously.
In less that two weeks we noticed a difference. Mother’s steps became less definite with occasional shuffles, and she seemed to be losing her depth perception on steps and curbs. She did not like the “sittercise” that was offered in her assisted living community (she wanted standing up exercise) so she did not attend those activities. Within a month she was shuffling a lot.
Now perhaps Mother was at a point in her dementia progression where movement was affected. On the other hand it may be that her daily exercise in South Carolina helped to delay her developing physical disability – fighting off this aspect of the dementia that was attacking her brain. A Wall Street Journal research review lends some credence to this view.