Are You at Risk for Falling?

9/29/2016

One in three Americans over 65 fall at home each year. Falls are the leading cause of death due to injury and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The high number of falls and injuries is prompting medical professionals to warn older adults to take the risk of falling seriously.

Falling can lead to bruising, fractures, serious head trauma, or even death. In addition to physical injury, falls may lead to loss of independence for seniors. Even those who are not injured when they fall can develop a fear of falling, which may make them reduce or stop physical activities. In turn, seniors can lose mobility and physical fitness and actually increase their risk of falling.

There are many factors that may lead to a person suffering a fall. Risk factors include decreased leg strength and flexibility, vision problems, dizziness, home hazards and use of certain medications. The good news is that many of these risk factors are avoidable and most falls can be prevented. Working with a physical therapist can be an excellent way to improve one’s strength, flexibility and balance. You and your physical therapist can develop strategies to address your specific risk factors and decrease your risk for falls.

Dizziness, one of the risk factors for a fall, can have a variety of causes – one being the inner ear. About 20% of all dizziness is due to problems with the inner ear.  At Bluegrass Outpatient Center, a therapist can use state-of-the art video goggles to locate where in the ear the balance disorder is occurring. After a thorough evaluation, you and your physical therapist can develop an effective treatment plan to reduce your dizziness and risk of falling.

Effective fall prevention should include vision checkups, a review of your medications with your doctor or pharmacist, and a review of your home environment to look for home hazards such as throw rugs, dim lighting or low furniture. Another very important thing that older adults can do to prevent falls is to maintain an active lifestyle, including regular exercise focused on lower extremity strength and balance.

Here is a very simple and effective balance exercise to try at home:

Stand at your kitchen counter with your feet as close together as possible. Practice standing as still as possible, making sure that you can grab your counter quickly if you start to lose your balance.  If this becomes too easy, close your eyes while standing to increase the challenge of the exercise.  As with all exercises, this activity should only be done if you are certain you can perform it safely without suffering a severe loss of balance, which may result in a fall. Speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

For other ways to reduce fall risk and ideas on how to improve balance and strength, visit the CDC web site at www.cdc.gov or call Bluegrass Outpatient Center at (270) 796-6800.

Biodex Balance:

Bluegrass Outpatient Center Fall Risk Program offers the Biodex Balance System. With the Biodex, therapists can assess your level of control and stability, and then help you improve balance, increase agility, develop muscle tone and correct a variety of balance problems. For a free fall risk screening or dizziness screening, call Bluegrass Outpatient Center at (270) 796-6800 or 1-800-570-6887.

About the Authors

Katy Moran, PT, MS has been a Vestibular (Dizziness) Specialist for ten years. She is highly experienced in the use of Infrared Video Goggles for the assessment of vestibular issues. Katy has been with Bluegrass Outpatient Center for seven years.

Gabe Smith, PT, DPT, OCS is a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. He stays up-to-date with the latest research on the topic of falls and fall prevention. Gabe has been with Bluegrass Outpatient Center for five years.

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