By Mary Ann Wilson, RN
Most of us depend heavily on our vision to tell us about our environment – knowing the height of the curb, obstacles to avoid, when we are approaching uneven surfaces, etc. This information gathered and processed through our ocular motor (visual) system keeps us safe and plays an important role in correcting balance challenges and avoiding falls. When we begin experiencing age-related declines in our visual capacity, like subtle changes in our depth perception, sensitivity to glare, or changes in our peripheral vision, then we become more vulnerable to falls. We can learn to manage this deficit by strengthening the other systems we rely on for balance such as the somatosensory (touch) or vestibular (inner ear) system. Here’s an exercise to do just that!
Start by standing with your back against the corner of a room, outer shoulders touching the 2 perpendicular walls. If you don’t have a free corner space, stand with your back against one wall. The heels should be directly beneath your hips and shoulders. Position a sturdy chair at your side. Use the hand closest to the chair to lightly touch the top of the chair back for added stability. Don’t lean on the chair. As you progress you can move away from the wall and use only the chair.
If at any time during this exercise you become dizzy or feel like you’re losing balance open your eyes immediately. Always have the chair next to you should you need it.
Stand in good upright postural alignment. Rest your hand lightly on the top of the chair. Close your eyes and try to stand still. Avoid swaying. Continue as tolerated for up to 10 seconds. To advance this exercise, gently lift your hand off the chair. Keep the hand hovering over the chairback should you need to touch it to regain balance. Note: Lightly touching any surface will help recover equilibrium. Resist the temptation to “lean onto” or clutch.
- Stand with your feet in a tandem position, one foot in front of the other during the exercise.
- Stand on one foot during the exercise.
Engage your glutes and core muscles. Imagine your feet firmly rooted into the ground as if you were a tree. Lengthen and feel strong through the spine. Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth.