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  • February 06, 2020

Promoting Balance and Fall Prevention through Water Immersion

Falls are a major health concern among adults 65 years and older. For instance, falls among older adults are the leading cause of injury-related death and are a primary contributor to immobility and lack of independence. More concerning it that the incidence of falls among older adults is about one in three and proportionally increases to one in two after the age of 80 years. The increasing age of the worldwide populations suggest the need for appropriate fall prevention programs.

The evidence is clear that poor balance is a risk factor and that exercises which improve balance are an essential component of any fall prevention program. Commonly prescribed exercises for improving balance includes activities that minimize stability such as standing on one foot, standing on wobble boards, and performing various lower extremity exercises. However, a common psychological consequence of previous falls is fear of falling. As a result, many older adults limit balance activities on land to minimize risk of falling., further decreasing functionality and exacerbating the issue of decreased balance. Recent research examining dynamic balance in chest-deep water supports the assertion that balance exercises performed in water are associated with less fear of falling than on land. Indeed, the same unique features of water that may have minimized fear of falling (e.g., buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, and viscosity) may also cause balance exercises in water to be more unstable than on land. The added instability is actually beneficial, especially if fear of exercises that are characteristically unstable. The instability and security created by chest-deep water adults who need to improve balance, which ultimately leads to greater independence, physical function, and reduced risk for falls.

"Alice and Jack had been married for several years and always enjoyed an active lifestyle. A car accident changed all that and left Alice with a traumatic brain injury. Alice and Jack decided to try water classes to help rebuild Alice's muscles and promote balance. While it wasn't easy at first, over time Alice increased her core control and learned to better maintain her footing. Alice hasn't met all her goals yet, but she feels stronger everyday."
This article was written by our scholar partner, Eadric Bressel, Ph.D., Professor of Biomechanics, Utah State University as part of an aquatic treatise, Water Immersion Works®: Research-Based Health Benefits of Aquatic Immersion and Activity.

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