The expected number of senior citizens, ages 65 and older, in 2030 is anticipated to be 72 million. This group will make up roughly twenty percent of the total U.S. population.5 This isn’t very surprising, as it is widely recognized that the baby boomer generation is retiring and moving into their golden years. As such, Comfort Home Care feels that is important to highlight the significance of staying active as a part of our campaign to keep seniors out of wheelchairs! Today, we are highlighting some of the dangers falling presents for seniors, and some effective ways to help prevent it.
Falling as Senior is Serious Business
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, about 21,000 seniors died from unintentional fall injuries.1 Falls also account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of nursing home admissions.4 From this data alone it is quite clear that fall prevention for seniors should be taken seriously.
There are a multitude of factors that cause seniors to fall. Many falls occur because of physical weakness, problems walking, poor vision, and poor spatial awareness. Here are a few activities that are recommended for seniors that help address these causes: walking, water aerobics, yoga, and Tai Chi. We will be calling attention to Tai Chi – one of the most effective activities recognized for fall prevention.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is the very slow moving graceful dance-like series of movements that you may have seen practiced in parks and other open spaces in the summer.
In fact, Tai Chi is actually an ancient Chinese martial art that is also practiced for health and wellness, and is increasing in popularity amongst seniors worldwide. Its growing appeal comes from the many physical and emotional benefits its practitioners receive. Tai Chi is a balance-based exercise that generally consists of slow, flowing movements of the body that build stability and develop fine motor skills. Tai Chi is great for seniors because, once one has mastered the basic movements, it doesn’t require any equipment and it can easily be practiced at home. This low impact, relaxing exercise also encourages peace of mind and social interaction – key factors in quality of life in all age groups.
When asked how Tai Chi works to prevent falls, Instructor Kris Brinker offered the following:
“The slow movements in Tai Chi not only help to strengthen the primary, major muscle groups, but also strengthen the smaller supportive muscles that effect balance and coordination”.
Kris also went on to say, “Tai Chi can be practiced by seniors of all ages and abilities. There are even modified versions of the exercises that can be done with the help of a walker or even seated.”
In 2009, the Oregon Research Institute did a study on seniors with Parkinson’s disease and their postural stability – a key factor in senior falls. The study randomly segmented 195 participants into three different exercise groups. One group did resistance based exercises (physical therapy/weight training), another group did stretching exercises, and the last group did Tai Chi. Each group participated in exercises for one-hour intervals, twice a week, for twenty-four weeks.3
At the end of the study, researchers found the Tai Chi group showed the most improvement in directional control and reach in comparison to the weight training and stretching groups. The Tai Chi group also showed significantly better performance when measuring gait and strength, better scores with functional reach and timed up-and-go tests, when compared to the stretching group. It additionally and notably outperformed the resistance-training group on stride length and functional reach. The Tai Chi group maintained these gains longer than the other groups when measured three months after the exercise sessions were over.3
Not surprisingly, the fall statistics for each of these groups reflected these findings as well. The fall rate of the Tai Chi group had 67% fewer falls then the stretch group. It is important to note that this study did not have a control group that did no exercise, meaning we cannot define the difference between Tai Chi and no exercise, but it is probably safe to say that the difference would be dramatic.
Prevent Falls before they Happen
Unfortunately, falls among the elderly are common, but steps can be taken to prevent them and reduce their likelihood. In 2010, there were 2.3 million fall-related injuries among older adults that were treated in emergency departments, resulting in $30 Billion spent on fall-related injuries.2 In the fight to prevent falls, staying physically active is critical. If you are not currently engaged in physical activity or if you are looking to change your exercise routine, take look at Tai Chi in addition to other activities.
Here are several resources available to seniors interested in learning more about Fall Prevention, Tai-Chi, and Fitness Activities for Elders. Also provided are the resources used in the creation of this article.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. Accessed August 15, 2013.
- Stevens JA, Corso PS, Finkelstein EA, Miller TR. The costs of fatal and nonfatal falls among older adults. Injury Prevention 2006a;12:290–5.
- Li, Fuzhong, Ph.D., Peter Harmer, Ph.D., Kathleen Fitzgerald, M.D., Elzabeth Eckstrom, M.D., Ronald Stock, M.D., Johnny Galver, P.T., Gianni Maddalozzo, Ph.D., and Sara S. Batya, M.D. “The New England Journal of Medicine.” Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease — NEJM. The New England Journal of Medicine, 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2014
- “Falls and Injury Statistics for Seniors and Elderly.” Falls and Injury Statistics for Seniors and Elderly. Www.learnnottofall.org, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
- “Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being.” Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being. Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 01 June 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2014. <http://agingstats.gov/agingstatsdotnet/Main_Site/Data/2012_Documents/Docs/EntireChartbook.pdf>.