People don't usually think about balance until they fall, but little signs such as relying on handrails to go up and down stairs can be early warnings that stability is starting to go, says Jason Jackson, a physical therapist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. These changes won't show up on the formal assessments that doctors use for people with balance disorders, such as the Berg and Tinetti scales. For most people, good ways to gauge include the need to lean on armrests when getting out of a chair or feeling wobbly while standing with feet very close together.
In the U.S., falls are the leading cause of injury for people over 65, according to a 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every 17 seconds, someone in this age group is treated in an emergency room for a fall. Every 30 minutes, one will die from injuries caused by falling.
Exercises can isolate these different systems and make the body work harder to keep them in top shape. Experts suggest doing exercises in a couple of 5- to 10-minute bouts each day. If you find yourself needing to sit down to take off your shoes, it might be time to start paying attention to your sense of balance.
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