Can Yoga Help Prevent Falls In Elderly Patients?

Falls are one of the main causes of morbidity in elderly patients. It is reported that more than one-third of persons aged 65 years or above, fall each year and in half of such cases the falls are recurrent.1

Elderly patients are at greater risk of falls due to various reasons and it is necessary to find out ways to protect them from falling. While lifestyle measures and ergonomic modifications can help, the elderly need to build strength from within. This article discusses if yoga can help prevent falls in elderly patients.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of non-fatal injuries in hospital admission among elderly patients.2 One out of every five falls causes a serious injury like broken bones or a head injury.3 Women fall more often than men and account for three-quarters of hip fractures.3

These are some of the important facts and statistics explaining the scenario of falls in elderly patients. However, according to the CDC, falls are not a normal part of aging and appropriate action can prevent falls in elderly patients. Here, let us understand in detail about falls in elderly patients and if yoga can help prevent falls in elderly patients.

What Can Happen in Elderly Patients If They Fall?

Falls in elderly patients are common and can be potentially serious. Falls can result in injuries, fractures, loss of confidence and independence, emotional problems, depression and even death.4

Falls can cause injuries like broken bones, wrist, arm, and hip fractures and head injuries, which can be serious. Further, recurrent falls and fear of falling can make the elderly person avoid everyday activities, making them less active, which can in turn affect their fitness levels and increase the risk of falling.5 Fear and lack of confidence can also make them dependent and many may need nursing and care.

These factors and possible risk of after-effects must also be considered when evaluating if yoga can be helpful in elderly patients. Yoga can play an important role in helping maintain physical as well as emotional strength that is important for faster recovery as well.

What Are The Risk Factors Of Falls In Elderly Patients?

Aging is considered as a general risk as many of the functions required for normal gait may show some decline with increasing age. Some aging people experience gait changes, increased weight, decreased strength, and balance, which may add to the problem. However, this may vary from person to person and proper care taken in the elderly may help prevent falls.

Certain conditions have been identified as risk factors for falls in elderly patients. These include

Medical conditions like postural hypotension, giddiness, vertigo, obstructive sleep apnea, or those affecting the gait, sleep, balance, or coordination.

Medications like antidepressants, tranquilizers, and sedatives. Medicines or substances that can affect blood glucose levels, blood pressure, sleep, or balance too can contribute to falls.

Improper arrangements or fixtures at home or areas usually visited, like broken steps, slipper mats, etc.

There is a possibility that certain activities like yoga can help in dealing with these problems and prevent falls in elderly patients, which must be implemented appropriately with medical guidance.

Can Yoga Help Prevent Falls In Elderly Patients?

Considering the health condition in elderly patients and the overall risk factors that can increase the chances of falls in elderly patients, it is necessary to formulate a plan that suits an individual. Several studies and researches have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of yoga for the elderly and if yoga can help prevent falls in elderly patients.

Studies have reported that yoga is found to be an effective treatment with positive effects on improving fall risk factors. Yoga is believed to help in lowering psychological, physiological, and environmental risk factors of falls in elderly patients. Yoga is also known to offer positive effects on improving balance and coordination, much similar to those given by balance training activities. Thus, it can be concluded that yoga can be appreciated as another safe intervention alternative for elderly patients to maintain physical and mental health including postural control, increase attention and increased self-efficacy.6

Another study conducted to evaluate the effect of yoga on balance and fear of falling in elderly patients too has shown positive outcomes. In this, the intervention group participated in two yoga practice sessions per week for eight weeks, while the control group did not receive any intervention. The results showed significant changes in both fears of falling and improvement in balance in the yoga group. Thus, it was concluded that yoga is a potential intervention to reduce the fear of falling and improve balance in elderly patients.7

Another report states that yoga can help improve balance and increase confidence in older adults who are at risk of fall-related injury. Yoga may be considered as a form of exercise the includes poses, meditation, and breathing exercises to improve flexibility, balance, strength, overall fitness, relaxation, and emotional well-being. Owing to the mind-body involvement in yoga poses, it is believed to be more therapeutic than traditional exercise.8

These studies are in favor of the fact that yoga can help prevent falls in elderly patients. Experts believe that yoga can be modified for elderly patients by changing the difficulty levels and modifying certain poses to suit the elderly. As yoga poses and breathing exercises work towards steady, gentle movements, it helps to create harmony in the physical, mental, and spiritual state of a person. While most yoga poses improve flexibility, making muscle and joint movement easy, some poses help improve stretching, relieving stiffness. Poses that require holding also improve muscular strength and stamina. Overall it helps reduce pain, fatigue, and keeps a person energized. While performing yoga, a person focuses on the mind and the breath, which helps improves awareness of self and proprioception. Breathing exercises help control breathing patterns that can relieve anxiety, fear, depression. Experts also believe that regular practice of yoga can help in relieving stress, which may help in managing lifestyle disorders.

Yoga poses work on improving hip and ankle movement, with improved strength of the supporting structures. With various studies, it is believed that the movements in yoga can address the risk factors of falls in elderly patients. As a regular practice of yoga can improve flexibility, balance, strength, improved movement, joint stability, spatial awareness, reduced fear, and improved confidence, yoga can help prevent falls in elderly patients.

What Can You Do To Prevent Falls In Elderly Patients?

Preventing falls in elderly patients requires a multi-disciplinary action. Maintaining good health, implementing strategies to improve strength, balance, and coordination, and performing regular activities are important.

  • Additionally, it is also necessary to follow certain measures to prevent falls in elderly patients.3
  • Take your medicines as prescribed, in the said doses. Get your prescription evaluated and check for any possible side effects like dizziness or sleepiness that can increase your risk of falls.
  • Talk to your physician about your health problems, your medications, and about any history of falls. Also report any problems in balance, previous injuries, or other problems. Have your joints and feet checked and discuss if any prosthesis, braces, or specific footwear would be required.
  • Get yourself checked regularly, with your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and other parameters that determine health. Get your eyes checked regularly and update your glasses if needed. For any conditions like cataract or glaucoma, get treatment, as advised.
  • Seek medical advice for vitamin D and other nutritional supplements, medications for underlying conditions that may increase the risk of falls.
  • Make arrangements at home or workplace like having ample lighting, fixing handrails on stairs or grab bars in the bathroom, non-skid doormats, etc.

Perform physical exercises only as advised and preferably under the supervision of an expert, if needed. Avoid high impact, sudden twisting, or challenging balance exercises to reduce the risk of falls. Plan an exercise regimen based on your health condition and practice regularly.

Yoga is a safer form of exercise that helps build strength and stability, improves flexibility and range of movement. It can also help in improving balance, coordination, gait, relieve pain, and fatigue. With proper medical advice, plan a yoga routine with a yoga expert.

Thus, while we discussed the risk factors of falls in the elderly and the need to plan proper interventions, we also discussed various ways to prevent falls. Although more studies continue in this regard, it is clear that yoga can help prevent falls in elderly patients, which can be used as an effective alternative treatment, with medical guidance.

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