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    Don’t Let Aging Trip You Up

    By Courier Staff Writer

          “Senior fitness is the key to preventing falls and maintaining mobility,” said Greg Cox, PT clinical director of the Balance Disorders Institute in Beverly Hills.
          Most seniors will tell you the “golden years” are not so golden when arthritis sets in, muscles ache, and the eyes don’t see quite as well. Most seniors are terrified of falling, and for good reason.
          According to the National Institutes of Health, fall-related injuries are the leading cause of death in persons over 65. Unfortunately, most seniors do not report fa11s to their physicians until they get seriously hurt.
          “Most seniors do not realize that a major cause of falls is poor physical fitness. A lack of exercise leads to weak muscles, reduced posture, inadequate balance control, and eventually falls.” explains Cox. “When seniors consult their physicians much later than they should, additional problems usually occur. Falls should be diagnosed from the onset, just like any other health concern.”
          A qualified physician or health care practitioner (such as an audiologist or physical therapist) should be able to evaluate and diagnose most types of balance disorders. In most cases, various physical, balance and walking tests may be sufficient. Other times, it may be necessary to have more detailed diagnostic testing ordered. These tests specifically evaluate inner ear and brain function.
          “Although most causes of falls are due to poor physical fitness,” stresses Cox, “there are more complex causes that may be involved. These may include TIA activity (transient ischemic attacks—often called “silent strokes.”), poor inner-ear function, and diminished sensation in the feet (neuropathy).”
          Good news is that the diagnostic process is much more accurate and comfortable than ever before. Once the correct diagnosis is made, successful treatment methods can be rendered.
          Balance is actually a very complex activity. Perfect balance uses vision, leg, hip and back muscles, tactile senses in our feet, the inner ear, and memory of how we control balance. Research is shown exercising these specific components of balance makes them strong and more responsive. Exercising on a consistent basis can minimize the chance of falling, but not all exercises are created equal.
          Walking is a great exercise, but not a complete one. It is recommended that along with walking, a variety of other physical activities be done. A qualified physical therapist who specializes in the treatment of balance disorders should be able to determine the correct type and combination of exercises should a balance problem arise.
          Tai Chi is an ancient art of energy exercises originating from China. These exercises promote endurance, balance control, correct breathing and good posture.
          Weight lifting can greatly improve strength, posture and balance control if done correctly. Weight training is also recommended for osteoporosis and can be done safely with 1ighter weights.
          Yoga done safely, can improve balance, flexibility, posture and strength. Yoga is also recommended for neuropathy (diminished sensation in the feet).
          Cardiovascular and Callisthenic exercises promote cardiovascular health, improve coordination and balance, and are essential for improving endurance.
          Balance and vestibular exercises stimulate inner ear function necessary for balance control. They also reduce or eliminate dizziness.
          Although basic types of balance exercises can be given by fitness instructors or even by searching the internet, it is important that a qualified healthcare practitioner be consulted when a balance problems or falls persist. First, speak with your physician and let them know that you are concerned about your balance and want to prevent falls.
          If your physician is unfamiliar with available resources, the web at www.vestibular.org is lists treatment resources all over the world. When you are ready to start treatment and exercise, make sure your physical therapist specializes in balance disorders and fall prevention. The exercises you are given should be specific for your needs and incorporate a wide variety of activities.
          Exercises should never be painful or too difficult to do. They should be hard enough to challenge your balance, but not cause a fall. Check around and make sure your therapist is experienced in this area. The Balance Disorders Institute has qualified medical professionals in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Torrance. They can be reached at 310-860-9646.

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