Many of us would not be here now if it were not for our National Health Service. And that includes me:  I belong to the sisterhood that speaks from experience of biopsies, surgery, chemotherapy, prostheses and wigs, although I didn’t experience all of them.  Which makes what’s happening now so Kafkaesque that we can’t believe it’s not in a war zone but here, in our first world country.

I’m not going rehash the current news, even those that set my hair on end about elderly ladies with dementia discharged from hospital without their families being informed, still in their sleepwear with their clothes in a bag, deposited outside their homes – in this weather! – unable to find a key and rescued by neighbours.  Thank God for good neighbours.  (A recent story is here – https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5247580/gran-with-dementia-discharged-from-hospital-on-christmas-day-and-dumped-on-her-doorstep-in-the-rain-with-no-keys/)   I say recent story because similar episodes are reported each year. One time I telephoned the press officer of the hospital concerned and she was as upset as I was. What sort of person puts a frail old lady into a taxi by herself without checking there would be someone at home for her?

Instead, I’d like to look at one the ways that older people can stay out of hospital. We all know the importance of exercise, diet, and staying socially connected.  What we don’t hear about often is the importance of keeping a good sense of balance, even though falls are one of the major reasons older people end up in hospital.

There are physical reasons that balance becomes dodgy as we age.  Inside our brains there’s a kind of gyroscope, a vestibular system that tells us where we are in space and which way is up. This deteriorates as cells die off and doesn’t give such swift corrections when we are older.  So we can tilt over the tipping point before we know it.

Also, we lose muscle mass and strength as we age, and that means losing power — a function of strength and speed — which affects balance, too.  If you start to trip, power helps you react swiftly. Exercise can help you rebuild strength and power, or at least slow the pace of decline.  Walking is particularly good.

There are a number of other things, too, including low blood pressure, the effects of medication, and poor eyesight.

An easy to read article by Harvard Medical School give some very good tips for strengthening a sense of balance.  They’re quite simple and easy to do – for example, standing up from a chair several times, and doing some easy wall planks.  You can read it here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/our-best-balance-boosters?utm_source=delivra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GB20180103-Balance&utm_id=763310&dlv-ga-memberid=10759978&mid=10759978&ml=763310

 

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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