If remaining independent is a goal for your older relative, bringing some balance to his or her life is essential—balance exercise, that is.
All it takes is short but consistent focus for Mom or Dad to significantly reduce the chance of a fall. In one study, two 15-minute sessions of balance exercises over a six-month period was enough to make a difference. That’s only 30 minutes a week. Depending on your situation, this may even be something you can do together.
- Routines are simple. Mom won’t be daunted by the balance activities recommended by the National Institute on Aging. Standing on one foot and heal-to-toe walking are easy to do at home.
- No muss, no fuss. No special clothing, no special gear, and not even much floor space is needed for balance activities. Dad can even hold on to a table or chair until he feels more stable.
It turns out the most effective exercise for preventing falls is tai chi. This gentle activity has been practiced in China for centuries. Tai-chi involves slow, graceful movements combined with controlled breathing and awareness of the body’s position.
Research has shown that people who practiced an hour of tai-chi three times a week for three months experienced a 43% reduction in falls. They also had a 50% reduction in injuries from a fall.
Tai chi is best done with a teacher and in a class. But if that’s not an option, there are DVDs that teach tai chi. The local library may even have some to lend out.
Get the doctor’s okay first
There are many reasons a person might have poor balance. Just to be safe, ask for a fall risk assessment before starting an exercise program. You want to be sure your loved one has all the bases covered.