Can Yoga prevent falls in seniors?
A large percentage of my practice is an older population that is prone to falls. A history of falls defines the aging person. A single fall or series of falls is the hallmark of the final stages of aging. In many cases, seniors don't have the physical ability to recover from the secondary effects of falls and succumb to pneumonia or stroke.
From a physiological perspective, the changes that contribute to a fall are many. First, the peripheral nerve impulse that is present in a younger population just isn't able to respond quickly enough to respond to the onset of a fall. And brain chemistry is also a factor. Neurotransmitters in the brain significantly decrease in the aging population. Can't remember that person's name? It's simply a fact of aging that we lose the capacity to react in a timely manner. These are just two of the factors that make the aging population prone to falls.
So what can be done to help the aging population prevent falls? A careful review of the home is the first step. Hand holds are important not only in the bathroom but also in strategic places throughout the home. Remove the throw rugs and look for loose carpet and other obvious sources that might contribute to tripping.
Exercise also has a place in preventing falls. Strength training is important but balance training is also a must. Tai chi has been used and now yoga has been proven to enhance seniors' ability to balance and prevent falls. In a September article in The Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, researchers found that yoga enhanced postural stability in seniors. (1)
The problem I have in practice is selling the concept of yoga to my seniors. Yoga is a very foreign concept to most octogenarians. I've found that a referral to a yoga studio just flat out never works. And without a thorough explanation of why exercise (sshhh - I mean yoga) works, most seniors just aren't going to get with balance training, let alone formal yoga.
The way I start is with balance training in the doorway at home. I have patients start by standing in a doorway with their hands on the door. I have them lift one foot and balance using the doorway to prevent falls. And then I have them switch feet and balance on the other foot. 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes of training at night. Easy as that.
It may not be tai chi or yoga, but if I can get a little balance training in, maybe just a fall or two can be prevented.
1. Ni M, Mooney K, Richards L et al. Comparative impacts of tai chi, balance training and specially designed yoga program of balance in older fallers. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2014;95(9):1620-1628.
Jeffrey A. Oster, DPM