Growing older more gracefully

Balance and confidence

When elderly people lose their balance and fall over, they can be adversely affected in two ways. Firstly, they may sustain serious fractures because of their brittle bones. Secondly, they frequently lose confidence in their ability and become reluctant to go out, which can in turn have damaging psychological consequences.

The causes of a fall in old age can often be traced to bad postural habits acquired many years previously. These can usually be corrected, or at least much improved, by a course in the Alexander Technique, whatever the age of the pupil. (See Posture and Poise).

If the head, neck and torso are correctly aligned, our body acquires a natural balance and we are much less likely to fall. This gives us greater confidence and improves our outlook on life.

The Functional Reach Test is a simple tool for assessing balance. A patient standing with one shoulder close to a wall is asked to extend the fist along the wall directly frontward. The subject then leans forward, fist extended in front as far as possible without taking a step or losing stability. The patient should be able to move the fist forward a distance of at least six inches; lesser distances indicate a significant risk of falling.

A pilot study published in 1999 demonstrated that the balance and functional reach of a group of women over 65 had undergone significant improvement after four weeks' training in the Alexander Technique, as compared with those of a control group. (Ronald J. Dennis - Journal of Gerontology, 1999, 54A M8-M11, "Functional Reach Improvement in Normal Older Women After Alexander Technique Instruction")

Blood pressure

A study of stress-induced raised blood pressure has shown that the Alexander Technique can be as effective as beta-blocker medications in controlling the stress response, producing a small but statistically significant reduction in blood pressure. (A Study of Stress Amongst Professional Musicians, Michael Nielsen, Medical School, University of Aarhus, Denmark, 1994.) Similar results have been observed in elderly Alexander pupils suffering from high blood pressure.

Parkinson's Disease

A study carried out at the University of Westminster, U.K., involved 93 subjects with PD. They were divided into three groups: alongside normal treatment, one group received 24 AT lessons, one was given massage, while the third was used as a control group. Self-assessment was done using the Self-assessment Parkinson's Disease Disability Scale (SPDDS), the Beck Depression Inventory and the Attitudes to Self Scale. Improvements were registered in all three indicators after the course of lessons and at six-month follow-up. (C. Stallibrass in Clinical Rehabilitation, 2002, 11 7-12, "Randomized controlled trial of the Alexander Technique for idiopathic Parkinson's disease".)