The field of Geriatrics addresses the complex interaction of multiple issues associated with the aging process.
Our bodies change as we age... we can't stop it:
- Muscles and tendons lose water content, shrink and are less flexible.
- The body's metabolic rate slows down
- Body mass decreases and is affected by changing hormones.
- Arthritic changes are present as joint wear and tear occurs
- Body chemistry changes and affects heart rate and pressure and we are commonly afflicted by chronic disease.
We can, however, control and minimize the effects of aging as poor health is not necessarily a consequence of aging. Inactivity, general debilitation from illness or surgery, falls or even the fear of falling are some of the main causes why seniors become frail and unable to remain living in their own homes. Research shows a direct correlation between frailty and death; frailty is not an inevitable component of the aging process and can even be reversed. Strengthening and reconditioning can occur at any age if the correct program is followed and monitored. A simple fall can cause a debilitating fear of falling and result in a declining activity level.
Physical activity need not be strenuous to be beneficial; leading as active a lifestyle as possible is crucial to maintaining physical health; this may mean a brisk 30 minute daily walk outside or merely a 10 minute supervised walk with your walker in the corridor of your nursing home followed by some balance activities facilitated by your physiotherapist who understands the scope of your medical situation. Regardless of age, beneficial exercise always must be of the appropriate frequency, intensity and design to ensure personal goals are met.
An effective training program must be prescribed according to your individual needs:
- aerobic activity (walking to improve heart and lung function)
- weight training ( increases muscle mass, strength, and bone health)
- stretching to improve flexibility ( improves balance reactions and reflexes to prevent falls)
- endurance training ( a sustained activity to manage fatigue and ability to keep active)
Falls are a leading cause of serious long term injury and altered lifestyle for Canadian Seniors. Most are preventable and balance problems in individuals at high fall risk can often be reversed. Injuries from falls are an enormous cost to our health care system and secondary complications can even result in death. Because this population is extremely diverse, fall prevention strategies vary with each person's personal needs. Health Canada's Handbook of Best Practice for Falls Prevention states the "more individualized a program is, the more effective the outcome will be." Recent research shows it takes 8-12 weeks following a suitable program (consisting of the above activities) to show a significant and positive outcome to falls prevention.
Therapists with Access At Home Physiotherapy have demonstrated amazingly positive results with clients in their 80's and 90's following individualized home activity programs to address various balance disorders ... many who were living in their own homes but unable to attend community based programs