Whether you’re concerned about fall risk for yourself or for a parent or other family member, the good news is that many falls are preventable. In Part 1 of this article, we looked at some of the aspects of fall prevention outside fitness, such as getting a medication screen from your doctor, reducing tripping hazards in your home, and drinking enough water. (Amazingly, dehydration mimics the symptoms of dementia.) Now it’s time to explore how fitness can help.
One of the main reasons people are afraid of falling is because they already have osteoporosis, its precursor (called osteopenia), or are at high risk for these conditions. In the past, we thought of osteoporosis as a women’s health issue. That’s because before our 80s, women are much, much more likely to develop it than men. After the mid 80s, men are also at high risk for osteoporosis. Now that so many women and men are living into their 90s and beyond, it’s become a public health issue for both genders. So it’s really important for older women and men to get screened regularly for osteoporosis.
Thankfully, there are options beyond just medication. Yoga for Osteoporosis, by Loren Fishman, MD is an excellent introduction to the science behind how the disease affects people, and how yoga can help. The explanations are all very reader-friendly, and the ideas empowering. The models in the photos show modified versions of the yoga poses that older adults with pain and/or limited mobility can realistically do.
Of course, there’s no reason you need to do the exercises in this or any book by yourself. Senior fitness classes are cropping up at Y’s, gyms, churches, and community centers nationwide. Many self-employed personal trainers and independent yoga teachers also offer 1-on-1 and group classes for older adults focusing on balance and fall prevention. The Silver Sneakers program (paid for by many health insurance companies) provides a variety of free exercise classes for seniors. Their “Brains and Balance” programs focus specifically on keeping your memory sharp and preventing falls. Whether you or your loved one is very isolated or a social butterfly, all older adults can benefit from the increased social interaction and new friendships that group fitness and group yoga programs provide.
Another outstanding option is to work with an Occupational Therapist. While physical therapy sessions are most often at the therapist’s office, an OT can come to your home. Rather than only working on strength and balance, they can help you relearn how to do real life activities, too. An OT may also be extremely helpful in evaluating what simple, cost-effective changes could be made to your house or apartment to reduce fall risk. In some states, Medicare will only pay for a home visit by an occupational therapist AFTER the patient has had at least one fall! Talk about defeating the purpose of prevention! But in some parts of the country, they do pay for OT visits before the first fall if OT is recommended by a doctor, so be sure to check the rules in your local area.
Regardless of Medicare coverage, you don’t have to wait until you or a parent has fallen! If you have private insurance, they may pay for an OT visit (be sure to ask if they need a prescription from your MD). And even if neither private insurance nor Medicare will pay for an OT visit, you still have the right to sign up for an OT on your own and pay out of pocket. In this difficult economy, many health care providers understand that people don’t have insurance or that their insurance doesn’t pay for services that they truly need, and are willing to offer discounted services to patients paying out of pocket.
Start with whichever of these tips seems most practical to you, and add one new thing each week or each month. It’s less overwhelming than trying to make several changes at once, and you’ll have a clearer sense of which ideas were the most helpful.
Missed last month’s column? Read it now:
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