Living & Aging Well

Opinion: Dual-tasking can help with balance

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As you age, you may start to notice changes in your balance, or may have already experienced a fall. Noticing changes in your balance can feel intimidating or even scary at times, but it's important to remember that you're not alone in this journey to maintain or improve your balance. In fact, most falls are preventable. With the proper education and training for balance, you can achieve significant improvement in your balance and reduce your risk of falling.

A common misconception about balance is that it relies mostly on your body's strength. The truth is, balance is just as much of a challenge for your brain as it is for your body, and strength only plays a small part. There are many things that impact your balance in addition to strength, such as vision, lighting changes, medications and more. For example, if you need to use your hands to get out of a chair, this may be a sign your coordination has changed, or that your strength has declined.

Balance is a reflex, and you can improve your balance through physical exercises (such as one-legged stands) and cognitive exercises (such as solving math problems or playing memory games). What's most effective is combining these exercises at the same time, also known as “dual-tasking.” Dual-tasking challenges you to think and move at the same time, which helps your balance reflexes and better prepares you for the world and its many uncertainties. One real-life example of dual-tasking is being asked a question while walking — oftentimes if this happens to an older adult, they'll typically stop walking in order to answer the question. This is because the part of the brain that controls balance has declined. The good news is that dual-tasking balance training can significantly improve balance after just a few weeks of training.

There are also plenty of things you can do at home to help improve your balance in your everyday routine. Try some of these helpful tips in your free time around the house:

● Adjust your stance.

● Every time you brush your teeth, challenge yourself to stand with your feet closer together.

● Focus on your footing.

● Focus on stepping from heel to toe when you're walking. This gives your brain the information it needs to assess the walking surface.

● Talk while moving.

● Train your brain and body to work together by counting items around a room or carrying on a conversation. Listening to music is a great distraction as well.

● Lift your feet over imaginary objects.

● Practice lifting your feet over imaginary objects to prepare yourself for everyday trip hazards, such as rugs. Trip hazards exist everywhere — learning to safely and consistently step over them is better than avoiding them long-term.

● Shift your weight.

● Hover your hands inside a sink for safety and shift your weight from one leg, then the other. If this is too easy, try it with your eyes closed.

The state of Colorado cares about its older adult residents and their health and wellness needs. Part of your health and wellness includes your balance, which is why Colorado provides helpful resources for balance training. One program that is offered to older adults is free access to Nymbl (website: co.fallsfree.com), a dual-tasking balance training app that can be done in the comfort of your home. If you have questions about your balance or fall risk, you can always start by talking to your doctor about these topics.

Sadie Schanbacher is the marketing coordinator for Nymbl Science. For additional information, or to access resources or services, please call 1-800-672-6854 or visit co.fallsfree.com.

This column is hosted by the Seniors' Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next virtual online presentation from 10-11 a.m. on Dec. 2, when presenter Nathan Estrada, clinical VP with Nymbl Science will present about Nymbl's fall prevention program and how to improve quality of life by enhancing your balance. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.

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