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JODY HOLTON — Aging is a balancing act; don’t take it for granted

We all need balance in our lives. Literally.

But having good balance is more complex than you may realize. As we make more revolutions around the sun, we find that our functionality changes.

Sometimes it changes drastically and quickly. In most cases, it sneaks up on us slowly, and before we know it, we begin to feel not quite as surefooted and begin to need a little help to catch our balance when getting up, climbing steps or walking on uneven surfaces.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an older adult in the U.S. is treated in the ER for a fall-related injury every 14 seconds and dies from a fall-related injury every 29 minutes.

Additionally, falls are a major public health concern, accounting for $34 billion in direct medical costs in 2017 alone.

The good news is falls are preventable and the first step to prevention is understanding risk. Older adults are valuable members of our families and communities, and falling and fear of falling may cause them to limit their activities, which leads to reduced mobility, diminished quality of life and actually increases their risk of falling.

In 2009, there were roughly 40 million older adults in the U.S.; by 2030, its estimated there will be about 72 million. It is now more important than ever that we bring awareness to a highly preventable risk facing this growing population.

Gait and balance disorders are common in older adults and are a major cause of falls in this population. They are associated with increased morbidity and mortality, as well as reduced level of function.

Common causes include arthritis and orthostatic hypotension; however, most gait and balance disorders involve multiple contributing factors.

Most changes in gait are related to underlying medical conditions and should not be considered an inevitable consequence of aging. Physicians caring for older patients should ask at least annually about falls, and should ask about or examine for difficulties with gait and balance at least once.

For older adults who report a fall, physicians should ask about difficulties with gait and balance, and should observe for any gait or balance dysfunctions.

At least 30 percent of persons 65 and older report difficulty walking three city blocks or climbing one flight of stairs, and approximately 20 percent require the use of a mobility aid to ambulate.

Lack of exercise, alcohol, obesity, neuropathy (nerve damage) in the lower legs, certain drugs or medical conditions, even wearing the wrong eyeglasses, can also interfere with balance, at any age.

The CDC suggests these basic lifestyle and safety changes to help reduce risk or prevent falls:

  • Begin an exercise program to improve your leg strength & balance.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines.
  • Get annual eye check-ups & update your eyeglasses.

Make your home safer by removing clutter and tripping hazards, putting railings on all stairs and adding grab bars in the bathroom. Have good lighting, especially on stairs.

Brisk walking, running and strength training helps improve balance. Any activity that increases strength, especially in your lower limbs, as well as agility, is worthwhile.

Even golf, aquatic exercise, and interactive dance video games have been shown to help.

Another thing to consider for fall prevention is a vitamin D supplement. Studies suggest that adequate vitamin D reduces the risk of falls by increasing muscle strength in the legs.

The recommended daily intake is 600 IU up to age 70 and 800 IU for those older, but 800 to 1,000 IU a day is recommended for most people. People who are deficient may need higher doses.

As always, follow your doctor’s advice with any exercises or taking of supplements. Get up, step out, and stay healthy, my friends.

Jody Holton writes about health for Port Arthur Newsmedia. She can be reached at jholton3@gt.rr.com.

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