It’s important to explore how to prevent falls, the leading cause of injuries in older people. Tai chi, a Chinese form of exercise, may help.
Tai chi is a popular form of exercise for older people, since it is easy on the joints and promotes flexibility, coordination, peacefulness and balance. One big benefit of tai chi: it may help an older person avoid falling, according to a review of 10 randomized controlled trials that compared tai chi to other activities.
In fact, the review concluded that tai chi cut the risk of a bad fall by half, in studies that followed participants for a year or less. In those studies, participants spent an hour doing tai chi from one to three times a week, for anywhere from 12 to 26 weeks.
Why older people fall
As we age, we lose coordination, flexibility and balance. The less active you are, the greater the losses. Most older adults are suffering from at least one chronic condition, like diabetes, stroke, or arthritis. These illnesses can lead to inactivity, increasing the chances of a fall
Older eyes have trouble seeing tripping hazards. Some medications can cause dizziness and lead to falls.
If you’ve been living in your home a long time, it may have fraying carpets or other fall hazards, but most seniors don’t think about simple modifications that would make their homes safer.
One in four older Americans falls every year. Falls can lead to broken bones, fractured hips, and head injuries. Even if your loved one isn’t injured, she may become afraid of falling and become less active.
How to prevent falls
Many older adults think that a bad fall only happens to other people. If you are concerned about a loved one, you might start by simply asking “Have you looked into how to prevent falls?”
Ask about her last eye checkup. Tint-changing lenses can make it hard to see when you go from bright sun to a dark building. Bifocals can be hard on stairs. She might need a prescription without those features.
Notice any signs of difficulty walking or rising from a chair. Those are signs she could benefit from physical therapy — as well as a tai chi class — to improve balance and strength. If she is using a cane or walker, ask if she’s had enough guidance. Using either in the wrong way can increase the chance of a fall.
Do a walk-through of the home to make sure that the bottom and top of stairs are well-lit, that the railing is secure, and that there are grab bars near the toilet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a home assessment checklist in multiple languages.
Encourage her to start tai chi. The National Council on Aging recommends a program called “Tai Chi for arthritis” for older people who are exploring how to prevent falls.
Especially if your loved one is worried about falling during any activity, a tai chi class is a good way to get moving again. There will be no pressure to overdo it: in tai chi class, everyone is encouraged to stick to what you can do without any discomfort. You’ll learn to focus on feeling energy flow to and from your legs, and become more confident about your balance. Tai chi has a reputation as the “longevity exercise.” The Chinese hero Peng Su, who practiced tai chi, is said to have lived until the age of 800!
September 29, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN