Balance is essential for carrying out everyday activities such as walking, getting out of chairs, bending down to put on shoes and shopping for groceries. Older adults who have impaired balance are at great risk of falling.
A quarter of falls among older adults are caused by poor balance and changes in walking style. However, older adults can maintain and even regain their strength, balance and mobility by staying active and healthy.
How can I assist older adults to build their balance?
Older adults can build their balance by regularly practicing balance exercises. During these exercises, the individual’s centre of gravity is constantly moving, forcing them to engage muscles to stabilise themselves.
The most effective falls prevention exercises consist of challenging and progressive balance and strength exercises intended to slowly improve balance over time. It is important to assess an older adult’s current capabilities before prescribing a balance exercise program. This assessment can help to identify the most suitable exercises and can be used to measure improvements in balance over time.
Click here to view and download validated balance assessment tools such as the; timed up and go (tug) test, the 4-stage balance test and the 30-second chair stand test.
How to challenge balance safely
In order to improve balance, an exercise program needs to be challenging yet safe. To ensure that the exercises pose a sufficient challenge to the individual’s balance, the program should include:
- Exercise in a standing position
- Minimal upper limb support (minimise the use of rails or chairs for support while exercising; however it is useful for older people to exercise near supportive objectives so they can steady themselves when necessary)
- A minimal base of support (i.e. exercise that involves standing or walking with the feet close together or standing on one leg)
- Controlled movements of the body’s centre of mass, such as stepping, reaching or dancing
Exercises that challenge an older adult’s balance have the potential to cause a fall. To reduce this risk, only prescribe exercises suitable for the individual’s capabilities, ensure exercises are set up in a safe way (e.g. next to a wall or counter for support), and supervise exercises if necessary. These recommendations are particularly important if the older adult is frail.