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Safer at home?

Edith lives in her own home. She is very proud of it and has tastefully decorated it over the last 30 years she’s lived there. She loves her home and her independence, but as many of her friends and neighbors have moved away, it’s gotten a bit lonely. Recently she started considering moving to a beautiful senior living community, but then this virus hit. That put everything on hold for a bit.

Harold lives in a senior living community. Every morning he gets up and ready and heads down for breakfast where he sits with the ladies. Men’s coffee and news is after that. He never misses exercise class three days a week. He heads back to his room to refresh before lunch. The afternoon is either cards, trivia, or a run to the store. He has a rest before dinner in the dining room and a little TV before heading to bed.

Both Edith and Harold are in their late 70s, and since the virus is often worse for older people, they have both decided to follow the guidance of their doctors and children and are staying in their homes for the time being. They have groceries and meals delivered to them. Video calls are all set up to keep in contact with grandkids. Edith loves crafts and has plenty of supplies and Harold has a great collection of old-time movies, so they are both safe and sound.

Or are they?

Their stories are pretty typical. As more seniors look to stay in their homes during this time of uncertainty and risk, it’s crucial to consider how we can ensure it is a safe situation for them. How can we make sure that being home alone, or even with a spouse, is a safe choice?

First, an assessment of the home may reveal hidden trip hazards. Even a burned-out lightbulb, a throw rug, or a shower that sprays a little water on the floor can create higher risks for falling. If you, or someone you know, is in this situation, here is a link for a free home safety checklist that can help identify potential hazards and help keep seniors safe.

Now, one could argue that since both Edith and Harold have been active and living independently for years, they are obviously safe. There are a few factors that should make us take a second look. First, after age 30 people lose about 3% to 5% of muscle mass per decade. For those in their 70s and 80s, this means a loss of 15-25% of their muscle mass.

This alone puts them at higher risk for falls.

Now things are compounded by the fact that Edith, Harold and many of their peers are no longer as active as they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider how many steps were taken, the bending and reaching, and getting in and out of cars and chairs when they were doing their own shopping, going out for lunches, or cleaning houses or apartments and making snacks for when friends or family came by. Now somedays they don’t even bother getting dressed. Even the effort to bathe, dress, and get out the door counts towards overall good health, and without that, the loss of strength, mobility, and balance is exacerbated.

Basic movements made throughout the day keep muscles strong and joints moving, resulting in good balance. Without all that activity, balance erodes quickly, and balance problems increase the risk of falls. Falls are the most common cause of accidental injury and death for those 65 and older, accounting for 56% of accidental deaths.

The good news is, Edith, Harold, and everyone else in their situation, has many options to keep the decreased activities from taking a big toll on their safety. But they must do something to counteract these changes.

Developing exercise habits that can be done safely in the comfort of one’s own home is the most impactful action to take to keep safe at home. A program that specifically works on balance and reduces the risk of falls is ideal. If someone hasn’t exercised before, it may be hard to get going, but the alternative to not starting is accepting an accelerated decline and higher risk of falls. Understanding the risks can help drive motivation.

When selecting a balance program to do at home there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Are the exercises the right ones that will make an impact?

  • Are there pictures and descriptions of how to do the exercises, including where to put the hands and feet?

  • How many repetitions should be done, how often, and is there guidance on how to modify the exercises so they are sufficiently challenging?

  • Then, how will you know when you are getting the benefit? How will you feel?

  • And finally, how does the program help motivate you to keep going?

If you yourself are feeling changes in your own strength and balance, we highly encourage you to start working on specific exercises to counterbalance the decrease in your daily activities. Or, if you know of someone like Edith or Harold, who may be at increased risk for falling because they are trying to keep themselves safe by staying home right now, we encourage you to reach out to them and share what you read in this blog.

If you, or someone you care about, are interested in getting started on a beginner’s balance program, we can say with confidence that the Align Build Better Balance program meets all of the requirements of a comprehensive and impactful program. You can check it out by clicking this link: Build Better Balance. If a more advanced program is desired, check in with your local physical therapy clinic or personal trainer who specializes in balance programming for seniors.

Like Edith and Harold, many older adults are choosing to stay in their own homes for the time being. This decision is understandable, but it may mean that extra care and effort is required to ensure they remain safe at home.

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