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Did you know that falls are the leading cause of injury deaths, unintentional injuries, and hospital admissions for trauma among older adults? Timed to coincide with the first day of the Fall season, September 22, 2021, Fall Prevention Awareness Day and Fall Prevention Awareness Week seek to raise awareness among older adults, eldercare professionals, and the general public about the seriousness of falls and ways to reduce risk.
There are five leading causes of falls in individuals 65 and older, including impaired vision, medications, poor balance, household hazards, and chronic conditions, but today we will focus on one: poor balance. Regular exercise can improve balance and potentially reduce the risk factor of falling. We will discuss exercises suitable for any age, shape, and size—something low impact, placing minimal stress on joints and muscles.
Tai Chi has shown great potential for improving balance and stability, thus reducing the risk of falls in seniors. It has also been shown that regular practices can improve flexibility and help reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, back problems, and fibromyalgia. Although Tai Chi is most commonly used in martial arts practices, it is being modified in many ways for seniors as a way to improve their balance. The practice targets all the physical components needed to stay upright, leg strength, range of motion, and reflexes, all of which tend to decline with age. Interestingly, one of Tai Chi’s most significant benefits to stability isn’t physical, but emotional, and having the confidence to move freely and at ease is another prevention in falls.
The following principles are employed to achieve a strong balance: upright posture, coordinated breathing, weight shifting, and slow, fluid, rounded movements. The slow, smooth and continuous movements of Tai Chi help strengthen the internal muscles that support the spine and calm the mind. Those who practice this form of gentle resistance are mindful of the importance of transferring weight with each step, reducing the risk of losing balance and falling.
To give you a better visual of this practice, basic Tai Chi forms might include:
Seated Cloud Hands: This seated exercise requires raised hands, followed by the right hand scooping down and then rising to land in front of the left hand. As the right rises in front of the left, the left hand drops down and rests above the thigh, palm facing down. The exercise is then duplicated, beginning with the left hand.
Standing Tai Chi Circling Hands: This standing exercise starts in a neutral position holding a pretend ball. The ball is brought inwards toward the abdomen, then up, pushed down, and away.
Seated Tai Chi Circling Hands: This seated exercise can be done with or without back support, depending on comfort. The head is lifted skyward; patients are asked to pretend they are holding a ball and bring it into their stomach, then bring the ball up and push it away and down. The movement is then reversed.
By incorporating Tai Chi into an exercise program, aging adults can take advantage of this ancient practice’s many benefits that promote strength, flexibility, and balance in both the mind and body. All of these are key components of any fall prevention strategy.
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