1. Review your medications with your doctor. Certain drugs affect balance. They can also cause numbness and tingling in the feet, dizziness, and slowed reflexes. Pain medications like Flexeril, Soma, and Paraflex are common offenders as well as long-acting benzodiazepines like Valium. Sleeping pills can cause drowsiness that carries over to the next day.
2. Get your eyes checked. Cataracts or glaucoma can rob you of your ability to adjust to changes in light and glare, which can translate into an inability to maneuver stairs or avoid objects in your path. Such vision changes can occur gradually, impairing your balance without you even noticing. Regular vision checks are a must.
3. If you need contacts or glasses, wear them, even at home. Make sure your glasses are clean and free of scratches.
4. Have your hearing checked. Changes in hearing that occur with aging not only affect your ability to follow conversations, but the middle ears also contain semicircular canals lined with hair-like structures, fluids, and crystals that maintain balance. Sometimes your doctor can reposition these crystals to significantly improve your balance.
5. Exercise daily. High intensity exercise is important, as well as weight training, and balance exercises like the ones noted above. Walking, jumping rope, and stair climbing are activities that help maintain bone and build muscle strength. Activities you enjoy, like dancing, can also improve muscle strength and balance.
6. Concentrate on your posture. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting ramrod straight. You can do that for short periods of time (it helps relieve sciatica), but don’t worry about the natural curve in your back. You can follow that curve, but be careful not to slump.
7. Practice ankle exercises. Strong, flexible ankles can help prevent falls. Do exercises with your shoes on and off.
8. Keep your yard and walkways in good shape and well lit. Repair loose steps and cracked sidewalks, and clear paths of brush and debris.
9. Remove clutter from your home, such as oversized furniture, throw rugs, and other objects that can lead to falls.
10. Check out the bathroom for dangers. Install grab bars in the walls around the tubs, add nonskid mats or appliqués to bathtubs, and use nonskid mats on surfaces that can get wet or slippery.