Are your Meds Making You Fall?

As people age, we find ourselves taking more medications. They’re usually prescribed to maintain our health, for example keeping cholesterol and blood pressure at good levels. Then we reach for over-the-counter remedies to take care of minor aches or temporary stiffness.

A quick scan through the over-the-counter remedies in my own bathroom reveals that the vast majority of them cite dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and fatigue as potential side effects. All of which will undermine my ability to stay on my feet.

Some drugs affect balance most when we start taking them. For example, antihypertensives, used to lower blood pressure, increase a patient’s fall risk most in the first 14-21 days of beginning the course of medication. Some of that risk is as the body adjusts to a different level of blood pressure, but the fall risk remains high for those patients changing from one type of antihypertensive to another. The body needs time to adjust to the new drug, to process what is basically a cascade of chemical reactions that can affect everything from your appetite to your inner ear sensitivity.

And, did you know that taking more than 4 medications dramatically increases your risk of falling? As we age, medicines take longer to break down in the body, causing different reactions compared with when we were younger. Drugs that didn’t cause side effects before can suddenly begin to do so. Even vitamins and alternative supplements can have an effect on each other and should be part of a discussion with your doctor.

Sometimes a particular formula suits one patient better than another. If you experience dizziness or other discomfit, it is worth talking through alternatives with your doctor, to find a solution that manages your condition without putting you at greater risk of a fall.

And in the meantime? Be extra careful by reducing trip hazards in your environment like loose rugs and cords; always switch on a light when entering a room, even for a moment; ensure your shoes are stable and comfortable.

For a complete list of home safety tips regarding fall prevention, click here

3 Ways Tai Chi Improves Balance

The idea that balance naturally degrades with age is a common misconception. While balance can worsen over time due to inactivity or other factors, there are many ways to maintain and improve balance throughout one’s life.

Tai chi is one practice that has been shown to help improve balance; in a study published in the Journal of Gerontology, researchers found that a three-times per week, 6-month tai chi program was effective in decreasing the number of falls, risk for falling and fear of falling while improving functional balance and physical performance in physically inactive people aged 70 years or older.

Here are three ways how tai chi can help you regain confidence on your feet:

Increase physical strength: Through slow, deliberate motions, tai chi targets flexibility and leg strength. These are key features of balance that also help improve posture, which enhances balance skills. The zero-impact nature of tai chi allows for the strengthening of muscles without intense impact.

Reduce fear of falling: Practicing tai chi can help improve spatial positioning and recognition while also making you more stable on your feet. These work in tandem to increase one’s stability confidence, and reducing a fear of falling has been proven to contribute to a reduced rate of falling.

Improved coordination: Gait problems can be addressed through tai chi movements that focus on appropriate weight transfer and proper movement of lower limbs—for example, lifting lower limbs from the knee rather than the foot. Smooth and coordinated body movements help to improve body awareness, range of motion and reflexes, all of which contribute to increased stabilization and better balance.

These three benefits of tai chi on balance health are just the beginning. To find a tai chi class in your city, try searching your city on the Supreme Chi Living website.

7 Myths about Balance and Aging

One in three adults over 65 will experience a catastrophic fall, and half of those over age 80. Falls are often expensive to recover from and can be followed by serious health problems brought on by even a temporary loss of activity.

So how much do you really know about balance and aging? Here are 7 myths that may surprise you.

Myth 1. Falling is normal

Falling is not a normal part of ageing. Although muscle strength does reduce with age, active people can maintain strength and suppleness. Other factors, such as worsening eyesight and loss of hearing can contribute to a higher risk of falling, but these are also conditions that can be managed.

Myth 2. If I limit my activity, I won’t fall

Actually, the more sedentary your lifestyle, the greater your risk of falling. With balance and exercise, it’s a question of use it or lose it. The current US physical activity guidelines say that to maintain fitness, all adults should aim to do 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week.

Myth 3. If I don’t feel dizzy, my balance is fine

Good balance is the result of communication between various systems in the body. The brain receives sensory input from eyes, ears and limbs, processes the requirements of your environment, then relays instructions back to the muscles in the limbs. A weakness in any part of this chain will result in balance problems. Dizziness is just one sign of impaired balance and can be caused by a number of things, including low blood pressure, dehydration, medication, illness.

Myth 4. Once strength is lost, it can’t be regained

It’s never too late. There are simple exercises that anyone can do to start building strength and improving balance, even if they haven’t exercised for a long time. It is important to speak to your healthcare professional before starting any form of exercise.

Myth 5. I already exercise, so my balance must be fine

In order to improve balance, the exercise should involve the muscles required in balancing the body. Standing exercises are therefore more effective than those performed while sitting down. Tai Chi is more beneficial than walking.

Myth 6. I have already fallen, I’m afraid to try new exercise

There are many exercises that are safe, even after a fall, to strengthen your muscles and help get you back on your feet. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist about which exercises are best suited to you.

Myth 7. If I could measure my balance, it wouldn’t change much from one day to the next

A number of factors affect your balance. For example, a poor night’s sleep, being sedentary for a few days, being ill, or making changes to medication are likely to affect your balance.

For further information on fall prevention and exercise tips, the following resources may be useful:

American Geriatrics Society: www.healthinaging.org

National Council on Aging: www.ncoa.org