VIDEO: Keeping Adults Well As They Age

By  //  March 24, 2014

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Dr. Rosemary Laird discusses Aging Services

Seniors Who Stay Fit Prevent Falls

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — I understand the desire to avoid many of the changes that come with aging. My hairdresser can tell you that! But it is my aged patients who inspire me to be careful how “anti-aging” I become. As one of them explained with a grin, “every time I get to thinking the creaks and squeaks and senior moments aren’t worth it, I remember it beats the alternative.”

A fundamental understanding of aging helps to shift focus from anti-aging to promoting the idea that we can all age with grace and dignity no matter the changes that come.

Of course, he meant death was the alternative to aging with bum joints and forgotten names. But nowadays there is a lot we can do to help ourselves age successfully. Or as another patient said, “I am aging with grace…and a pacemaker, a new hip, a cane and a hearing aid.”

It is important for us to understand how the body ages and the impact of common illness and lifestyle choices for good or bad, as well as examine ways to adapt to these changes and in some cases to slow them down.

A good fundamental understanding of aging helps to shift focus from being strictly anti-aging to promoting the idea that we can all age with grace and dignity no matter the changes that come.

Move It Or Lose It

“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Sadly, this phrase is all too well-known. Even sadder are the numbers of falls, injuries and deaths that aflict seniors every day.

Each year in the United States, more than one third of community-dwelling adults aged 65 and older experience falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 20 to 30 percent of falls result in moderate to severe injuries that impair elders’ mobility, reduce their ability to maintain independence, and frequently lead to early death.

In more than 90 percent of elders whose hip fractures have been caused by falls, 25 percent die within six months to one year after the fall. Adults aged 75 and older account for nearly 85 percent of fall fatalities.

Combination Of Changes Increase Fall Risk

A number of changes combine to create increased risk for falling. Muscle mass decreases and the efficiency of nerves, especially sensory nerves that detect how soft or hard the ground is, declines leading to decreased muscle strength and performance especially when quick movements are needed.

Approximately 20 to 30 percent of falls result in moderate to severe injuries that impair elders’ mobility, reduce their ability to maintain independence, and frequently lead to early death.

Bone density is lost in both men and women.  The resulting changes to the anatomy of the spine, foot and joints can alter gait and contribute to unsteadiness while walking.

Cardiovascular efficiency at rest is reasonably preserved as we age, but maximal ability when stressed is decreased so we become more susceptible to changes in circulation and dizziness with change of position such as getting up quickly.

Vision and hearing changes can limit information our brain needs to adjust properly to the environment around us.

If You Move It, You Won’t Lose It

First remember this: If you move it you won’t lose it! Research has clearly shown you can make improvements in your level of physical fitness well into your 90s.  Thirty minutes a day, five to seven days per week of moderate exercise is one of the most important ways to reduce fall risk because it builds strength and helps us feel better, both physically and mentally.

Walking in a pool and other water-based exercises are very effective at helping to maintain balance and physical fitness in the elderly.

Yoga, Tai chi and other exercises focused on improving balance and coordination are most helpful, but any exercise increasing strength, endurance, and flexibility provides improved physical function for balance and coordination.

Walking is the universal exercise and walking in a pool or other water-based exercises are effective as well.

Be Smart–Mitigate Your Fall Risk

First, get to your primary care provider for a full evaluation. In addition to the effects of aging there are many other causes for falls including medications that increase fall risk.

Next, do not be afraid to use a cane or walker if necessary for balance and security. It is critical to stay active. But you need to avoid injury if at all possible. Elders should use handrails on stairs for guidance and support. Wearing rubber soled, lowheeled shoes that support feet and are not slippery adds to the security of walking with reduced fall risk.

SilverSneakers® Fitness Program

A great way to start your “Move it, or lose it” journey is by exploring the  SilverSneakers® Fitness Program in your community. It is an innovative health, exercise and wellness program helping older adults live healthy, active lifestyles.

Many of the health and fitness centers in Brevard County are participants in the program.  To learn more about the details of the program, which centers participate, whether your Medicare plan offers the program, and how to start using the program, log on to silversneakers.com or call 888-423-4632.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Rosemary Laird

Dr. Rosemary Laird

Dr. Rosemary Laird is the founding Medical Director of the Health First Aging Institute. The Aging Institute sponsors clinics for geriatric consultation, memory loss, and primary care, and provides support for caregivers. Dr. Laird received her medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine, residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of Chicago, and a Geriatric Fellowship at the University of Kansas. You may contact Dr. Laird at 321-727-9764 or log on to www.eldercare.health-first.org

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