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Balance and falls

The ability of the human body to stay upright and mobile is influenced by the interaction of several systems, including the individual’s balance. Therefore, it is no surprise that balance plays a vital role in everyday activities such as walking, getting out of chairs, and bending down to put on shoes. 

As a result of inactivity and as part of the natural ageing process, older adults may experience decreased muscle mass and a reduced ability to produce muscular force quickly, which can increase their falls risk.

Older adults with muscle weakness, gait deficits, or mobility limitations are three to five times more likely to fall than individuals without these impairments. 

Participation in exercise is one of the most effective strategies to reduce the risk of having a fall due to its role in maintaining muscle and strength, increasing endurance, and improving gait, balance, and mood.

Older adults should aim to complete at least three hours of exercise a week, or 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, and include exercises that challenge their balance and strengthen their legs. 

How can I assist older adults to build their balance? 

Older adults can improve their balance by practising balance exercises regularly. Exercise programs for older adults should aim to progressively challenge balance whilst safely reducing the individual’s base of support or moving their centre of gravity. Older adults can maintain safety while challenging their balance by having a stable surface nearby to hold onto if needed. 

It is essential to assess an older adult’s current capabilities before prescribing balance exercises. This assessment can help to identify the most suitable exercises, ensure the exercise program is tailored to the individual’s needs and can be used to measure improvements in balance over time. There is more about balance screening tools on the Screening and Assessment Tools page.  

Balance exercises such as standing on one leg, stepping over objects, and walking heel to toe may be all your client requires to improve their balance. However, there are exercise programs available designed to increase an individual’s balance and reduce the risk of falls in older adults, including: 

  • Tai Chi for Falls Prevention 
  • Lifestyle integrated Functional Exercise Program 
  • The Otago Exercise Program  
  • Strength for Life Program 

It is also important to consider what activities older adults will enjoy. The Injury Matters eDirectory can help you assist older adults in finding activities in their local area.

If they are more comfortable completing balance exercises within their own home, the Build Your Balance resource provides simple balance activities to complete at home.  

Caution: Exercises that challenge an older adult’s balance have the potential to cause a fall. To reduce this risk, only prescribe exercises suitable for the individual’s capabilities, ensure exercises are set up safely (e.g. next to a wall or stable surface for support), and provide supervision if necessary. These recommendations are particularly important if the older adult is frail. 

Stay On Your Feet® balance-related resources

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