Preventing Falls Among Older Adults
Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injuries in the United States. Advanced age greatly increases the chance of a hospital admission following a fall. However, difficulty with balance and falls is not just a result of getting older. Many falls can be prevented.
What is balance?
Balance is the ability to maintain the body’s center of gravity within its base of support during all activities.
Three components comprise the “balance system” in your body:
- Visual system (eyes)
- Vestibular system (ears)
- Proprioceptive system (sense of touch)
Are you at risk for a fall?
1.) Have you experienced a stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, Parkinsons’ disease, or other neurological problem that has affected your balance?
2.) Do you take medicine for two or more of the following diseases: heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, anxiety, depression, pain or thyroid?
3.) Have you fallen more than once in the past year?
4.) Do you use a walker or a wheelchair, or do you need assistance to get around (including holding on to furniture when indoors)?
5.) Do you have difficulty sitting down or rising from a seated or lying position?
6.) Do you feel dizzy or unsteady if you make sudden changes in movement, such as bending over, quickly turning while walking, lying down, looking up, or quickly turning your head?
7.) Due to balance difficulties, do you restrict or are you fearful of the following activities?
- Taking a walk
- Carrying a full plate across the room
- Getting in and/or out of the car
- Getting on or off of the commode
- Stepping off curbs
- Climbing stairs
- Walking on a crowded sidewalk
If you answered YES to any of the above questions, you could benefit from a consultation by a physical therapist that specializes in balance.
How can a physical therapist reduce your risk of falling?
A physical therapist can help you with:
- Exercise: Learn how to improve your range of motion, strength and cardiovascular capabilities
- Education: Learn how to make your environment safe and how to select proper footwear for different surfaces.
- Become aware of sensory deficits and learn how to adjust or compensate for your losses, learn energy-saving techniques to allow you to perform activities of daily living safely
- Gait Training: Improve your ability to walk with or without a device such as a cane, walker or crutches
- Balance Re-education: Re-educate your body to respond to loss of balance. Learn how to compensate for poor balance to make you safer in your home environment.
- Postural Re-education: Become aware of your posture problems and learn to perform the proper stretches and exercises that will make you safer while moving.
- Vestibular Rehabilitation: A specialized exercise program designed for the individual with dizziness and poor balance secondary to an inner ear problem.
What is vestibular rehabilitation?
Vestibular rehabilitation is an exercise approach for the treatment of disequilibrium and dizziness symptoms associated with vestibular pathology.
The vestibular system consists of the portion of the inner ear which controls balance and eye movements. In a normal system, when we move our heads, this system is stimulated and the correct balance response occurs. In a damaged system, the response can be any of the following:
- Unsteadiness during walking
- Visual problems
If you have experienced a recent fall, feel unsteady on your feet or have spells of dizziness, talk to your family physician.