We’re leading the way in making preventative health care a priority
Balance — physical, emotional and in life — plays a leading role in our health and well-being. Good physical balance helps older adults continue doing the activities they love — whether that’s gardening or water skiing. To ensure residents maintain or regain the balance they need to live fully and joyfully, Spectrum Retirement launched a system-wide balance improvement program.
“I’ve worked with a lot of the retirement communities, and Spectrum Retirement is by far the most innovative and proactive,” says Laura Cambria, PT, regional director of operations for Legacy Healthcare Services, Spectrum’s partner in this program. “They’re really taking a stance on preventative health. They want to be there to help residents live the best quality of life possible.”
Good balance is an important component of essential activities such as walking, going up and down stairs, and getting in and out of the shower. Good balance also prevents falls, which is one of the leading causes of injuries in older adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one out of four older adults fall each year. Falls are the primary cause of hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries.
Once a person falls, they are not only at an increased risk of falling again, they may also develop chronic injuries and poor movement patterns that impact their quality of life. “After a fall, individuals usually become fearful of falling and stop doing a lot of the activities they enjoy,” says Meredith Brunk, Legacy Healthcare Services area rehab clinical specialist and occupational therapist. “Because they stop doing things, their lifestyle becomes more sedentary. As they become less active, they become weaker and the whole cycle continues, because weakness ties to a greater risk for impaired balance and falls.”
About the Balance Improvement Program
Spectrum Retirement addresses these issues head-on through its comprehensive balance improvement program. The program goes beyond group classes, although that’s part of the plan. It involves identifying residents that want or need support and developing individualized plans that address balance.
Legacy Healthcare Services therapists meet with nursing teams weekly to identify residents who have fallen or are at risk of falling. “We take a community, collaborative approach to ensure there are as many eyes on the residents as possible,” says Cambria.
Upon referral, Legacy Healthcare Services completes a thorough evaluation to gain information on residents’ physical and cognitive strengths and weaknesses. They also take a look at the residents’ home and community environment. From there, residents receive a plan tailored to their specific needs, abilities, and goals.
“We talk with residents to determine their quality of life and what could be impacting their balance,” says Cambria. “Our care plans are then provided and implemented by fully licensed physical and occupational therapists.”
Group classes (currently on hold due to COVID-19) such as yoga, Tai Chi and strength training, augment these individual plans. Not only do these classes get the heart pumping, but according to an AARP article, studies show strength, flexibility, and balance-focused exercise can help minimize a person’s fall risk.
Occupational therapists also play a key role in Spectrum Retirement’s balance intervention program. These skilled therapists talk with residents about much more than physical strengths and weaknesses. A few issues they look for and address include:
- For residents who have fallen in the past year, do they have a fear of falling?
- Can they maneuver safely and effectively around their home and community?
- Can they get into and out of the shower?
- Is balance interfering with participation in hobbies or other things they enjoy?
- How is their cognition?
“Cognition is a huge part of our therapy because we want people to function at their fullest potential within their cognitive ability,” says Brunk. “A care plan for someone with cognitive impairment, who may not remember cues or to use a walker or grab bar, would look much different than for someone without cognitive issues.”
Signs of Balance Issues
Caregivers can help determine if their loved one needs to spend time working on balance. A few signs of balance impairment include:
- Not participating in usual activities or increased difficulty performing those activities.
- “Furniture cruising:” using chairs and tables to steady themselves as they move from room to room.
- Increased difficulty getting up from a chair.
- Increased slips and trips.
- Early dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Certain symptoms can increase fall risk.
- Changes in medication. Certain medications may cause dizziness.
- Acute or chronic pain. According to “A Prospective Study of Back Pain and Risk of Falls Among Older Community-dwelling Women” in The Journals of Gerontology, body or joint pain is associated with 40–71 percent greater odds of a fall.
Balance declines are common in people over 65. However, balance can usually be improved. Stay active and seek support through Spectrum Retirement’s balance improvement program to prevent falls and to keep living as joyfully and colorfully as possible.
Home Exercises for Balance Improvement
While group classes can’t happen right now due to coronavirus stay-at-home orders, residents can do a lot at home to stay active and improve balance.
Legacy Healthcare and Spectrum Retirement recommend all residents participate in their home exercise program. Any resident who doesn’t have a copy of the program can get one from their therapist or a Spectrum Retirement nurse. The exercises come with clear printed instructions and video demonstrations.
For residents who want to expand on the home exercise program, try these simple balance-enhancing moves*.
- Stand behind a steady chair. Hold onto the back while standing on your left foot. Hold for as long as you can. Switch sides. Advanced: Do the same without holding onto the chair.
- Using that same steady chair or a countertop, stand on your toes as high as you comfortably can. Don’t lean too far forward. Repeat 20 times.
- March in place, lifting your knees as high as you comfortably can. Aim for 20 steps per side. If you need support, march in front of the countertop or chair.
- Walk heel-to-toe for 20 steps across the main room of your home.
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Transfer your weight to your right foot and slowly lift your left leg off the ground. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Put your foot back on the ground and transfer your weight to your left foot. Slowly lift your right leg off the ground for up to 30 seconds. Aim for five times per side.
* Please talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.