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Why Is This Doctor Telling Grandmas to Balance on One Leg While Brushing Their Teeth?

February 14, 2014
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Why Is This Doctor Telling Grandmas to Balance on One Leg While Brushing Their Teeth?
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
It's keeping them safe from falls.

Falls are always a danger to the elderly. More than half of people over age 80 fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of injury to seniors. In Wisconsin, the death rate among elderly people after a fall is double the national average, so one doctor decided to try to do something to reduce the risk. Dr. Irene Hamrick of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health learned about a program in Australia called the Lifestyle and Functional Exercise program, or LiFE, that was improving seniors’ balance by incorporating simple exercises into their daily routines. Participants in the program reduced their rate of falls by 31 percent over a year of follow-up, and increased their strength.

Dr. Hamrick adapted LiFE for Wisconsin seniors. She recruited people over 70 in Wausau, Wis., to enroll in a pilot program that asked participants to perform simple strength and balance exercises during the day, like standing on one leg while brushing their teeth. The program runs counter to the standard advice that physicians give to the elderly about avoiding activities that may be challenging to their balance.

Dr. Hamrick plans to expand the program statewide, saying in a statement, “We are very excited with the success we have seen so far. Patients really want to do the program, and we have not had anyone drop out.”

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