Aquatic Exercises — One Strategy To Keep Seniors Strong and Mobile

Physical activity is one of the health goals we are all being encouraged to strive to make a part of our every day lives.

Working out in the gym may not fit into the lifestyle or even abilities of many of our senior loved ones but…

Who wouldn’t want to do exercises while enjoying a refreshing swim at the same time?

Pool Exercises

Seniors are jumping into the pool to get moving for their health but are finding there are far more benefits!

In Seattle, Occupational Therapist Jeanne Shepard works with a group of women aged 60 to 80 years old to improve their balance through a variety of exercises in the pool.

The local YMCA aquatic center houses the hour long class.

The unique mixture of moves they perform is helping to prevent falls.The water naturally allows them to mimic the motion of falling and learn to manage their balance.

Fear of Falling Evaporates in the Water

By falling in the buoyant water and working against the water’s resistance, the participants are overcoming their fears of falling and most especially their fear of potential loss of independence.

This addresses one of the greatest concerns as more seniors desire to age in place, the potential impact falling may have on their safety.

The consequence of falls has troubled many family members and caregivers. Aquatic activity could help allay their fears.

The numbers are staggering.

Did you know:

  • falls are the 2nd leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide (yes, deaths)
  • every 13 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and every 20 minutes an older adult dies from a fall
  • falls account for over 8 million hospital emergency room visits, making it the leading cause of visits (21.3%)
  • fractures are the most serious consequences of falls and occur in 5% of all people who fall
  • hip fractures are the most serious fractures from falls and lead to the greatest health problems and number of deaths
  • according to the CDC, in 2005 more than 15,000 people over the age of 65 died as a result of a fall
  • 50% of all older adults who are hospitalized for hip fractures cannot return home or live independently after the fracture

Inactivity can lead to falls, with injury as a senior’s muscles lose strength resulting in impaired balance.

It is estimated that, by 2020, the population of older adults will double, resulting in even greater numbers of falls and/or hospitalizations as more seniors age in place.

Keeping active with age by joining this type of program can help your senior keep strong muscles, maintain balance and allow them to stay safe at home and community as long as possible.

Test Your Balance

Experiencing problems with balance (or equilibrium) is not uncommon in seniors who have lost muscle mass as they age.

Weak skeletal muscles make it hard for seniors to maintain their posture and can lead to falls.

Here is one way your senior can easily test their own balance. The shorter your balance time, the “older” your equilibrium is and the greater your fall risk.

1. Stand next to a firm surface such as a counter or chair back.
2. Hold your hands above the surface in case you need support.
3. Close your eyes and lift one foot off the ground.
4. Balance on the other foot.
5. Count out loud the number of seconds you are able to balance.

Increasing Muscle Strength

Improving muscle strength through specific activities can help our senior loved ones prevent falls.

Participating in aquatic exercises, such as the program in Seattle, is one way to build strength.

There are also other activities that seniors can do to help them build muscle including:

  • swimming
  • water aerobics
  • tai chi
  • resistant exercises, such as weight lifting of light weights
  • balance exercises
  • climbing stairs
  • get up and down in a chair without using your arms
  • biking
  • yoga
  • stay active in general
  • eat right with adequate protein and nutrients to prevent muscle loss

STEADI Program

Because falls should not automatically be a part of aging, healthcare providers have become part of the prevention solution.

Healthcare providers are trying to identify seniors who may be at risk for falls when they perform medical exams.

Through the STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries) program created by researchers at CDC’s Injury Center, doctors are performing specific tests on seniors to determine their level of risk including mobility tests, endurance, leg strength and balance.

When determined to be needed, they are referring seniors to the appropriate community resources to help them build strength, balance and reduce their fall risk.

Doctors may also review medication lists to see if there are any prescriptions that might be contributing to falls. They may also prescribe nutritional supplements such as calcium and vitamin D to protect bones from fractures if a senior does fall.

More Fall Prevention Steps

In addition to talking to your senior’s doctor about their fall risk, your senior can do some other things to help them prevent falls.

  • Get vision checked and use prescription eye correction
  • Treat foot pain when experienced and wear proper footwear, even when indoors
  • Correct any home hazards or dangers

You and your senior can act to help them improve their balance through specific activities, talk with the doctor about potential risk and create the safest environment in their home to prevent falls that could lead to not just fear of falling but injuries, hospitalizations and death.

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