Senior Living: Avoid falls with simple exercises, tweaks at home

senior living: avoid falls with simple exercises, tweaks at home

A cane can help provide support and make it easier to navigate tricky surfaces. Some even have retractable ice and snow spikes, which are ideal for winter.

The balancing act.

No, I am not talking about those movements Olympic gymnasts perform on the balance beam. My “balancing act” is much closer to home, consisting of my attempt to keep my equilibrium in all circumstances and thus avoid falls.

My first rude awakening to my fragility came a few years ago, just before COVID-19 days. It happened in an instant as I was ready to step off the curb to cross a Montreal street. Instead of keeping upright, I found myself on the ground. I managed to get up and continue on my way, but the incident — and there had been a few earlier warning signs — demanded action.

Off I went to see a physiotherapist who showed me various exercises to strengthen my knees and leg muscles and improve my balance. He also advised me to get a cane for support. Since that day I have followed his advice about exercising. I also bought and use a cane that has retractable ice and snow spikes. All this has paid off — knock on wood — in several fall-free years up to the present.

Whenever possible, I try to make time for the prescribed exercises. Here is the exercise I do for leg strengthening: I sit towards the front of a sturdy chair that won’t slide, with feet slightly apart. Leaning slightly forward, I stand up fully and slowly, then return to the sitting position and repeat. I have now worked up to 10 repeats — not always easy!

There are more prescribed exercises I do almost daily to improve my balance — of course, always with a sturdy chair or wall nearby for support, if needed. Of course, just as I did, you should consult a health care provider before embarking on an exercise program.

Besides exercising, there are other measures I have taken to help me with my “balancing act.” One of them was to make my apartment easier to move around in. Wherever you live, improvements should include securing carpets and removing area rugs (mine are now stashed in a corner or donated to charity).

More “mobility-friendly” home improvements should include freeing areas of obstacles, keeping hallways well lit, replacing doorknobs with lever handles, installing handrails in stairways and arranging dishes in the kitchen so they are easier to reach. I had an occupational therapist visit and suggest alterations — a very good idea.

The bathroom is often the scene of accidents, so it is wise to make improvements. I had a grab bar installed by the bathtub, and I now use a hand-held shower nozzle and stand on a non-slip mat in the tub. Other bathroom helpers might include a flip-up tub seat and raised toilet seat.

At home I wear slippers and outdoors I wear shoes that have sturdy, non-slip soles and give good support. This means non-floppy slippers that cover the foot toe-to-heel and sensible low heels for outdoors. Walking in stocking feet or barefoot at home is a no-no. Still on the home scene, my best investment was a smart lamp on my bedside table, giving soft light for my nighttime “outings.” Of course, a phone on my bedside table is always at the ready for emergencies. It should be rapid-programmed with 911 and other essential numbers. Then there is the medical alert “panic button” you wear and press to summon help.

I admit to being extra careful in outdoor settings, paying attention to my movements and surroundings. I keep my eyes fixed on the ground and try to avoid rapid movements. Slow and easy does it, I tell myself. But I try not to be obsessed about it.

I also try to get help, whenever offered or available. I no longer climb a ladder to change a light bulb I can’t reach. Instead, I ask someone to do it for me.

True, I am not an Olympic gymnast, no gold medallist, but I strive for a “perfect 10” score in my balancing act. So should you!

— Alice Lukacs writes the Life in the 90s column

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