Test your balance!

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As we age, maintaining balance becomes critical so we can stay steady and avoid falls. Falling is the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Falls threaten seniors’ safety and independence and generate enormous economic and personal costs. (National Council on Aging)

Some alarming statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • As many as 1 in 4 Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
  • Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
  • In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
  • The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.

But falling is not an inevitable result of aging.

Through practical lifestyle adjustments, evidence-based falls prevention programs, and clinical-community partnerships, the number of falls among seniors can be substantially reduced.

Below are three videos on tests to assess your balance and risk of falling. If you’re not able to safely sit and stand on your own power, skip the tests.

(1) 10-SECOND BALANCE TEST:

In this video, fitness expert David Jack shows us how to do a quick balance check:

  • Stand up in open space, i.e., not against a wall or a piece of furniture.
  • Put your feet together, close your eyes, and balance.
  • Stand for 10 seconds.

Did you have a sense of anxiety or fear? Did you start to sway? That’s your brain telling you balance is something you need to work on.

2. 30-SECOND SIT-TO-STAND TEST:

How many times can you sit and stand from a chair in 30 seconds? In this video, David Jack explains how this quick—but important—test can give you clues about your lower-body strength and endurance.

You’ll need a regular, sturdy chair with a seat that’s about 17 inches high.

If you did 19 or more reps, that’s a sign your lower-body strength and endurance are above average.

(3) More Demanding Tests:

How did you do on the three video-tests?

If the results say you need to work on balance, pay attention! 

Having a strong lower body makes it more likely you can keep your balance and avoid falling. Thus, increasing the strength of your thigh, calf and hip muscles should increase your balance. There are balance exercises you can do to improve your stability and reduce your chances of falling. Go here for a video.

But simple things like walking and dancing can strengthen your lower body. A June 2017 report in Disability and Reabilitation tested this idea in older adults with limited mobility. Participants practiced line dancing twice a week for an hour. An untreated group served as the control. After just 8 weeks, the line dancers had greater leg strength and better balance than controls. Interestingly, they also walked faster and felt more mobile.

Stay strong!

~E

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Gracie Storvika
Gracie Storvika
1 year ago

Wonderful article! Everyone needs to be aware–I certainly can say from experience.

truckjunkie
truckjunkie
1 year ago

I already know my sense of balance is compromised, largely due to my hearing being weak, so I’ve gotten into being more careful getting on and off the decks of my flatbed trucks and avoiding climbing ladders if at all possible.

Jackie Puppet
Jackie Puppet
1 year ago

My balance is fine, but I won’t do the sit-to-stand test due to my knees, which are already in bad shape, and figure I’ll eventually need both of them replaced in another decade.

What worries me, is dropping things. My mom has a condition nicknamed “viking’s claw”, in which she cannot hold her hands out (palms up), and extend her fingers out without some discomfort/pain – her fingers will stay curled. And she tells me she drops things much more frequently these days. I’ve noticed a little bit of that in myself, too.

joandarc
joandarc
1 year ago

Thank you Dr.E for this interesting and important post. I have fallen a few times myself, but “for the grace of God go I,” I was not injured. I am very compromised because of some serious health issues, so I will not take the various balance tests. However, I try to walk and be active as much as I can. I will say that generally, I have very good reflexes. And I have learned to be careful which is very significant.

Steven Broiles
Steven Broiles
1 year ago

My problem, which is occasional, happens when my vagus nerve gets irritated. I fell two times in my life, once in 1996 at the age of 40, and three years ago when I slipped off my stoop and cracked three ribs.

So ask your doctor about your vagus nerve if he determines your inner ear is not the problem.

(Another vagus nerve problem for me are my daily sneezing fits. My doctor won’t prescribe any meds, at least for now).

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[…] (6) Exercise helps prevent you from falling by building your lower-body strength. See my post, “Test your balance!” […]