Tai Chi May Combat Seniors’ Fear of Falling
By: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
It’s the fear of many older Americans – falling and
injuring themselves. And their fears are not unfounded. According to the
Centers for Disease Control, 33 percent of Americans, age 65 or older, have at
least one serious fall each year.
With seniors leading increasingly active lifestyles, hip
fractures have steadily increased. There was an increase of more than 80,000
incidents from 1988 to 1996. PM&R physicians help individuals rehabilitate
and recover after a fall. But they realize that preventing falls in the first
place is the most effective way that they can help.
The reason falls in older people can be so serious is
that healing occurs more slowly as we age. Other health factors such as
osteoporosis, arthritis, and weak cardiopulmonary systems can delay
rehabilitation sessions and prevent full recovery.
The costs can also be staggering – especially for
those lacking insurance or with inadequate coverage. In 1997 the average first
year costs of hip fractures were between $16,300 and $18,700
About 60 percent of falls occur at home during normal
daily activities. According to PM&R physician Florian Keplinger, MD,
seniors can reduce their risk of falling by making a few simple changes in
their lives and their homes.
Increase the lighting in
work and living spaces in order to see better. Keep a night light on.
Remove articles that rest
on the floor that someone could trip on (rugs, footstools, grandchildren's
toys!). Secure throw rugs with double-sided tape or get rid of them
Install handrails on
stairs; use non-slip mats in bathtubs and showers.
Review all the medications
being taken with a physician or pharmacist. Many medications will affect
people differently as they age, such as causing light-headedness or
Get routine eye and ear
exams to catch any deficits.
Restrict pets to certain
areas of the house.
Begin an exercise program
to strengthen the body. Perform exercises that involve range of motion and
isolation of different movements.
Wear sturdy shoes with
thin, non-slip soles instead of running shoes with thick soles. Avoid
Studies have shown that the most effective fall
prevention programs offered to seniors have reduced falls by 30-50%. These
programs usually include a review of someone’s current medications, risk
factor reduction and safety modifications to their home, education, and the
introduction of an exercise program. Tai Chi, a martial art that uses slow
movements, has been proven to reduce the risk of falling for many seniors. The
movements and philosophy of Tai Chi teach people to relax, slow down,
coordinate their mind and body, and improve posture. Studies published in the
Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that Tai Chi benefits
cardiorespiratory function and that increased strength and balance can help
prevent falls. The strength and balance that Tai Chi and other exercises build
also boost self-confidence. All of these factors combine to make seniors feel
stronger and more confident as they move.
The key to success with any of these fall prevention
techniques is that older adults must take an active role in making these
changes to their lives. For those individuals who have been injured from a
fall, psychological counseling immediately after an injury may be one of the
best remedies to avoid depression. But that can be difficult for a patient who
has never needed any.
If you are interested in learning more about Tai Chi,
check local community centers or health clubs for classes, or check out
instructional videos from your video rental store. As always, check with your
physician before beginning any new exercise program.