One of the things that makes my work fulfilling is teaching seniors how to remain independent as long a possible. I consider independence to be one of the most important issues facing an elderly population, and since I’m approaching that demographic, I’m all the more passionate about it. I am currently writing an ebook on this topic, so I thought I would include some excerpts from the book over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll find some nuggets of information that will be useful to you. I would appreciate your feedback.
Who wants to be independent? I certainly do. But the term independent means different things to different people. For me, I want to be surrounded by my favorite things; my wonderful bed, my swimming pool, my neighborhood, my family. Part of that independence is being healthy and feeling great. And, I don’t want to be dependent on others for my care. If you feel the way I do, please read on….
The purpose of this book is to provide people with the knowledge that teaches them some strategies on how to stay independent as long as possible, and to keep them out of a full-time assisted living center or having 24/7 in-home skilled care. I teach how to prevent falls, how to pick up-carry-and set down objects, and how to step down from a step or a curb. I will cover six areas: Vision, hearing, medications, posture, how to make your home environment safer, and the mega-importance of physical activity, including balance training.
Balance tends to decline with age because it is dependent on three main factors which all interact with one another: vision, hearing, and proprioception. Our eyesight and hearing decline with age, and we may lose a great deal of our proprioception if we are less active and more sedentary. I’m often asked, “what are proprioceptors?” I’ll provide a more in-depth explanation later in the book. For now, think of proprioceptors as tiny sensors in muscles and joints that detect subtle changes in movement, tension, body position, and force within the body. These sensors relay the information rapidly to the brain area known as the cerebellum, which will fire the correct muscles to correct the change. This correction would be analogous to booster rockets on a spaceship to keep it in proper orbit.
We tend to rely more on eyesight for balance than the other two mentioned above. An easy way to test your reliance on vision is to stand and lift one leg off the ground. Instantly you’ll feel the proprioceptors in your standing foot and ankle start to work, much like booster rockets on a spaceship-they’re trying to keep you in orbit, so to speak. Next, close your eyes. Most people with immediately start to wobble and lose balance.
The cerebellum is the area of the brain which coordinates vision, hearing, and proprioception, and like all body tissues, circulation is of utmost importance. While the inner ear actually attempts to correct balance the quickest, as I mentioned, we rely on vision the most. High blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritic conditions can all damage blood vessels and tissues in the eyes. Many people with arthritis suffer from dry eyes, and several of the eye drops can actually worsen the condition.
The good news about balance is that it can be improved-if you train proprioception, and learn to relax the eyes and ears (more on the latter two later). In this book I will give you some exercises and stretches that will improve strength, flexibility, and balance. The great thing about these is that they are all highly functional tasks and require very little equipment, and what equipment they may require is very low cost-in fact, most items are probably in the home already.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.