An older gentleman holding his side

Why would an elderly person start leaning to one side?

Whether you are a family member, carer or the person that this is affecting, it is important to understand the multitude of reasons why a person can start to lean to one side. What is equally important is to understand what can be done to address this; this article aims to cover both of these.

Reasons for leaning to one side when sitting: 

Poor sitting posture can worsen these issues, further problems can develop when the muscles get used to being in a certain position. This can then affect an individual’s posture in lying, sitting, standing and walking.

Ageing Process

As we get older our muscles can become weaker and our joints stiffer; this can lead to an individual leaning to get support. Pain related to conditions such as arthritis can affect how an individual sits and changing posture to reduce this pain can cause leaning or slumping in a chair. 

Skeletal Problems 

There are specific skeletal problems such as scoliosis that can cause an individual to lean; scoliosis is where the spine is curved to one side in either a “C” or an “S” curve. There are many reasons for this which can be either long-standing or related to other conditions. Scoliosis can develop over a period of time due to leaning to one side (in combination with other factors).

Osteoporosis which is where the bones become brittle and have a honeycomb appearance on X-rays, which can cause the spine to change shape. It can also cause pain so an individual may change how they sit to manage this; side leaning is one way in which this may be achieved.

A diagram of Scoliosis of the spine

Pain

There are many reasons for pain and can be wide-ranging from injury, nerve damage as well as problems such as pressure damage. An individual will try and alter their posture to reduce the pain they experience and leaning can be one way to achieve this. Pressure damage can be caused by side leaning as there is more weight through one area, so it is important to make sure that an individual sits as well supported as possible.

Incorrect Seating

Having a chair that is the wrong size is often an overlooked reason why an individual may lean to one side. A chair that is too wide or too deep will cause someone less strong to lean to get additional support.

A older couple sat in a riser recliner chair in their Livingroom

Ways to Help:

  • Check your chair: This should be the correct width, depth and height (including armrest height).
  • Seat Height: An individual’s feet should be able to be placed flat on the floor (19% of a person’s body weight goes through their feet!) with their knees and hips at 90 degrees.
  • Seat Depth: There should be support along the thighs with approximately one to two finger’s width between the back of the knee and the front of the chair cushion.
  • Seat Width: The chair should be wide enough that they can sit to the back of a chair but not so wide that they have to lean to feel safe and stable.
  • Armrest Height: If the armrests are too low, an individual will lean more to make contact with the armrest; if it is too high this can cause pain and discomfort in the neck and shoulders as they are in a hunched position.

 Need some help? Read Opera Bed’s helpful guide to help you measure

All of the above can affect how an individual can get in and out of a chair safely which can cause further weakness and can increase the risk of falls.

A seating assessment can help identify what type of chair will meet an individuals’ needs best and prevent further problems from occurring. If an individual is experiencing problems with their posture, it is advisable to contact an occupational therapist to assess their posture and give advice on appropriate seating. This can be done either through a referral from a GP or finding a private occupational therapist through the Royal College of Occupational Therapy (there will be a charge for a private occupational therapist). https://rcotss-ip.org.uk/find

Other Factors 

It is important to look at an individual’s environment as well as how they are sitting as they may be leaning to watch the television or to speak to family members due to the location of a chair. Hearing or visual impairment could also be a factor in this, so it is worth ensuring that an individual’s hearing and vision have been checked.

Keeping Active

This does not mean running a marathon but encouraging general movement and not staying in one position for a long period of time is beneficial.  Stretches can reduce stiffness and maintain a good posture. Continuing to engage in hobbies and interests is also important from a physical and psychological point of view. Contact your GP if there are any concerns about undertaking light exercise. A physiotherapist can also help guide appropriate exercise to maintain muscle strength.

Older people taking part in dance exercise

Mobility Aids

Not everyone will need this but if balance, falls or reduced confidence is affecting an individual’s ability to move around, it may be worth considering a mobility aid to assist in moving around safely; a physiotherapist can assist in this.

Get in Touch With Opera Beds

You can request a brochure or book a consultation with Opera Beds about what type of seating may meet your needs. The following link can give further advice and information about choosing the right chair.

A Opera sales woman showing a customer a rise recliner chair

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