How Yoga Improves Balance in the Elderly




Alternative_Medicine2.jpgAmongst older adults aged 65 and over, falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries and hospital admissions. It is estimated that at least one-third of adults above 65 experience serious falls in their lifetime. The cause of falls in the elderly is often multi-factorial, and no definite cause is ascertainable in the vast majority. Quite often balance system in-coordination is pointed out, but as an integrated system, balance relies on inputs from various sources: vision, cerebellar responses, joint senses and even basic spinal reflexes.

YogaA new study from Temple University’s Gait Study Center has found that Yoga helps with both balance and stability, and effectively reduces the chance of major falls in the elderly. Dr. Jinsup Song and his colleagues at the School of Podiatric Medicine and the College of Health Professions studied the effects of a specifically designed Iyengar Yoga program on 24 volunteers — women in the over-65 age group. After completing the nine week program, all participants reported a faster stride, an improvement in single leg stance and confidence in walking and balancing and improved flexibility in the lower limbs. In addition, participants became much better at how to redistribute pressure through the soles of their feet.

Some participants even reported improvement in their pain symptoms as a result of reduced stress on their arthritic joints. In addition, the study found that participants reported a more optimistic, focussed, goal-oriented view of life. For the elderly, this means a vastly improved confidence in balancing themselves and increasing their mobility, which in turn helps to prevent falls.

Perhaps this study elegantly demonstrates that falls in the elderly are often a result of disuse of their balance capabilities, which can be greatly enhanced through professional programs.

Reference

Song, J., Newton, R., Yun, J.S., Heilman, B., Zoltick, E. (2008). Gait Study Center. Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society Proceedings.

Sudip Ghosh, MD

Sudip Ghosh, MD, is a surgeon at the University of Manchester, UK and a medical writer.
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