Balance: Avoiding Falls

         BALANCE: AVOIDING FALLS

Dr. Jim David

            My good holistic friend, Dr. Don Rapp, who teaches juggling and balance at Chautauqua Institute (www.ciweb.org) in New York State each Summer stresses the importance of balance in every area of our lives. He frequently emphasizes “virtus stat in medio,” which as you know is Latin and translates as virtue stands in the middle way.

Aswe get olderwe knowfrom reading and personal experience that falling down becomes an increasingly common experience. About one-third of the elder population over the age of 65 falls each year, and the risk of falls increases proportionately with age. At 80 years, more than half of seniors fall annually. On a recent weekend, as my wife and I were walking hand in hand toward President Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, in Nashville, my wife tripped on the curb and bruised her knee, hip and palm of her hand; and this was a fairly gentle fall. With falling,we never knowthe time or the place that itwill happen.

I’ve had peripheral neuropathy for 20 years so I’m always at great risk of falling because I can’t feel my feet very much.  A few years ago, the place where I go for health care, Walter Reed Army National Military Medical Center, offered a preventive, multi-disciplinary evaluation program to ascertain one’s ability to balance well. They had incredible space age, digitalized measurement machines in a collaborative effort (audiology, physical therapy, ophthalmology and a few more). I thought Iwas being screened to become an astronaut.

I had to chucklewhen they told mewhat I should do on a daily basis to strengthen my ability to balance and avoid falling.  The exercises seemed so simple and basic after having undergone such intensive and extensive testing and evaluation from all those sophisticated machines. So here are a fewof the exercises I nowdo on a daily basis to keep a better connectionwith the earth.

After you get up in the morning, but before getting out of bed, flex your toes down and up 30 times. As a bonus, you could also flex your fingers to keep them limber and possibly ward off arthritic pain. The purpose of the toe flex is to help you grip the surface you’re treading. It appears that people in shower clogs or sandals are automatically gripping the earthwith their toes. Toe flex strengthens the muscles.

While still lying in bed, rotate your ankles until they feel loose. My ankles, toes and feet feel pretty much frozen onwaking. Even though you probably don’t have peripheral neuropathy, exercising your toes and ankleswill help in making firm contactwith the ground.

The next step is to stand in one placewhile rocking back and forth from one foot to the other. You begin by placing one foot forward so your heel is just a bit ahead of the toes of your back foot. You than rock back and forth 20 times with all your weight on one or the other foot. Initially this can be quite difficult. Try looking at yourself in a full length mirror while doing it and position yourself next to a cabinet or a stable object as you’ll most likely tend to fall off balance. By doing this each morning youwill strengthen your muscles and gain confidence inwalking.

With this next exercise it’s vitally important to watch what you are telling yourself so as to avoid saying, “I can’t do that!” If you say that to yourself or other people itwill certainly be true.  On the other hand,when you tell yourself you’re doing a little better each day, itwill also happen. Standing on one leg certainly is a fierce challenge to your balancing abilities. Begin by standing close to awall or a solid object so you have a surface to steady yourself.  Initially, you may not be able to stand on one leg or you may only be able to do it for a second or two. Tenacity is required for this one. The ultimate goal (which may never be reached) is to stand on one legwith your eyes closed. Instead, in addition to standing on one leg, I recommend the following, less challenging exercise. Stand on two legswith your eyes closed. This sounds simple enough, but keep in mind that balance results from integrating sensory input from our muscles, eyes and ears. Whenwe close our visual sensory input, standing on two legs becomes more difficult. Thiswill help you to showerwith your eyes closed.

My final suggestion is to practice heel-toewalking like you’re taking a sobriety test.  Again, watch what your are telling yourself. You may find this very challenging in the beginning, but with daily practice you’ll become more and more skilled.

You know the three most important issues in real estate are “location, location, location!” In mental health and in all types of balance, the big three are “awareness, awareness, awareness!” To achieve living in awareness I recommend doing some type of meditation daily. We fall downwhenwe don’t stay aware ofwhatwe’re doing. When we walk, we must give 100 percent attention to the walking.

We have five levels in our home sowe have lots of stairs to navigate each day.  We’ve learned the hardway not to rush and to keep at least one hand, preferably two, on the railings at all times. We have also learned thatwhen getting up in the middle of the night, be sure you are fully awake, have a night light on and knowwhere pieces of furniture are to hold on to steady yourself. Whenwe hike thewoods each morning, I carry a staff to stay balanced and avoid falling. Falling and breaking a hip, pelvis, arm, wrist, etc., is not fun.  Believe me,we know!

Dr. David is a practicing psychotherapist in Silver Spring who adheres to balance in all areas of life. Visit his website at www.askdrdavidnow.com or email at james519@comcast.net

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