Danger: Falling Objects

Of the myriad of obstacles that RA confronts us with, one that bears some discussion is balance.  As a professional who works with the older adult population, I see on a daily basis the impact of poor balance on ones' quality of life.

That may seem like a rather intense viewpoint but data supports this. About one-third of Americans over 65 fall every year, according to the CDC. Emergency departments treat about 2.5 million fall-related injuries (or about one every 13 seconds) every year.  Furthermore, the number of American seniors who die from fall-related injuries has nearly doubled since 2000. While roughly 30 seniors in every 100,000 died following a fall in 2000, that figure jumped to nearly 57 per 100,000 by 2013.

Balance problems associated with RA

Now not all of these are balance related but many are. Programs like Matter of Balance, Tai Chi and our own Bone Builders program work with seniors to improve balance and stability.  The more we can improve our balance the better the odds that we will not fall.

Why is balance important?

For those of us with RA, balance becomes especially important because our joints may be unstable and our muscles more weak and less flexible increasing our chances of falling. Add to that the balance issues associated with aging in general and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

The programs I mentioned above are just a few ways you can address this issue in your own life.  I have found that there are a variety of falls prevention and balance improvement programs available. Many are built into other exercise programs giving us multiple benefits! You can find out about these from your medical team and other local resources.

Addressing balance problems can be life saving

Balance is often overlooked when we discuss the problems with RA. We tend to focus on joints and muscles, pain, fatigue and treatment. But addressing balance can truly save your life.  If you are not able to walk with steadiness and a balanced gait you may want to look into some balance-related exercises or programs that address this.

What has worked for me

As a result of my participation in several exercise programs, I feel much more steady and sure-footed. Tai Chi for, instance, has been certified as a falls prevention program. I have seen a significant difference in my balance since I began to practice Tai Chi. I really did not think my balance was particularly compromised until I attempted to do the forms associated with Tai Chi. I quickly found that I was not as secure in my movements as I thought I was.

I was taught techniques in foot placement and weight shifting that have transformed my balance. Not only did it make the practice more successful and satisfying but it carried over into my daily life. Now when I go up or downstairs, carry packages, walk along an uneven or wet surface I know how to handle that.

Tips on how to achieve better balance

Here are just a few helpful tips.

  1. Take a class that enhances you body's ability to achieve better balance.  As discussed above, there are many! Exercises for balance can be found online (make sure they are reputable sites) or your physician or physical therapist could recommend some you can do every day at home.
  2. Wear footwear that will NOT make your balance shaky or unstable. Stilettos are not a very good idea!
  3. Don't walk looking down. I know that seems odd but walking with your head up and eyes ahead is the safest way to proceed.
  4. Taking shorter steps is often better. The distance between your feet when you step should be comfortable - too wide a step and you become unbalanced and too short can do the same. There are some rules of thumb with regard to this so check with professionals for the best way to achieve the perfect stride.
  5. Avoid uneven and slippery surfaces as much as possible. The more even and dry the surface the better.
  6. For walking on ice or snow add to your footwear!  I use portable treads/cleats that I attach to my boots so I can walk with greater security in the winter months here in Vermont. I also keep a pair in my car. There have been times where I  start the day away from home with no winter weather but by day's end I have to get around in snow or ice. I thank my lucky stars for that pair of cleats in my car.
  7. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, sit down immediately and get help as opposed to trying to get somewhere and then falling. This may seem obvious but often when we are alone and feeling unsure of our footing we try to address it ourselves instead of getting help. CALL FOR HELP. Don't try to be a hero.

These tips just touch on a few strategies I have personally found useful. There are of course many more. I suggest you pursue your own research in finding out the best way to achieve "better balance" in your life!

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