The risk of falling and a deterioration in our ability to walk briskly and securely are two of the more worrying aspects of ageing. While these faults are generally blamed on our legs, there’s plenty of medical evidence suggesting we should be looking more closely at our brains as well.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 950 injury hospitalisations per 100,000 people were due to falls, making falls the leading cause of both hospitalisation and deaths in Australia from 2020-2021, with 77 per cent being the 65-and-over group.
Because the mind and body are so integrated, research has indicated that a decline in mobility and an increased likelihood of falling have been linked to a deterioration in overall cognitive ability, attention, speed and visual processing.
This could all be depressing news except recent research done by the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute discovered that even ageing brains have plasticity, which means that they can be trained to improve their performance in specific areas. An improvement in our brain’s performance in the areas that control our walking and balance would have the effect of reducing the likelihood of falls and unsteadiness.
“We know that exercise, and keeping people physically healthy and fit, reduces the risk of falls,” says Research Chair, Dr Teresa Liu-Ambrose.
“We generally assume this is because exercise improves physical functions, such as muscle strength and balance. What is not as well-recognized are the cognitive benefits of exercise and how they contribute to fall prevention.”
Regular exercise is an effective way for older adults to prevent falls because it helps to improve several key factors that contribute to falls, including balance, muscle strength, and flexibility.
Muscle weakness is a common problem among older adults, particularly in the legs. Strengthening exercises such as weight lifting, squats, and lunges can help to improve muscle strength and reduce the risk of falls.
Falls often happen when we are unable to react quickly enough to prevent them. Incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine– particularly exercises that require quick reactions – can help to improve reaction time and may prevent future falls.
It’s important to note that any exercise program should be tailored to your individual needs and abilities.
Brain or cognitive training is a type of exercise that involves challenging your brain to improve cognitive function, including memory, attention, and decision-making. This type of training can be particularly beneficial for preventing falls because it can help improve your ability to process information and respond quickly to changes in your environment.
By incorporating these cognitive training exercises into your daily routine, you can improve your cognitive function and reduce your risk of falling.
It’s empowering to discover that brain plasticity means that older adults aren’t condemned to a fate of irreversible brain decline. If those over 60 are prepared to train both their mind and body consistently, there’s plenty of medical evidence to support the claims that even older brains can improve their performance.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.