How to prevent falls

Photo by mheim3011/iStock/Getty Images Plus; St. George News

FEATURE — A popular television commercial shows an elderly woman who has fallen on the ground and cry’s out: “Help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” In physical therapy we see the consequences of those falls.

Broken bones, head injuries and bad bumps and bruises are some of the effects of falling. These patients come to our clinic after they have fallen, but I always feel disappointed because often the fall could have been prevented with appropriate fall prevention and awareness.

Falls can diminish your ability to lead an active and independent life. Statistics show that about one third of people over the age of 65 and almost half of people over the age of 80 will fall at least once this year. The fact is most people over the age of 65 are at some sort of fall risk and should have it addressed.

There can be many reasons someone falls, but there are certain risk factors that can significantly increase the chance you will take a tumble. These reasons include:

  • Leg muscle weakness.
  • Difficulty with balance or walking.
  • Vision problems (cataracts, macular degeneration, wearing bifocals).
  • Medical conditions that limit your ability to get around, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or diabetes.
  • Conditions that cause confusion, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Taking more than four medications at the same time or taking sedatives or antidepressants.
  • Using a cane or other walking device.
  • Home hazards (throw rugs, pets underfoot).
  • Low blood pressure.

Fortunately, there is help available and often requires a team approach between a physical therapist trained in balance and vestibular problems, an audiologist trained in specific balance testing, and your medical doctor. A good exam will take an in-depth look at your medical history, home environment, strength and mobility and will use specialized balanced and testing equipment to pin point the specific causes of your balance problems.

Based on the evaluation results, your physical therapist will design an exercise and training program to improve your balance and strength.

Balance training has been shown to be an important and effective part of falls prevention. Physical therapists design exercises that challenge your ability to keep your balance. These exercises such as single-leg standing, balance boards and obstacle courses are very effective in preparing your body to stay steady in the variety of environments you live and function in.

Vestibular exercises are vital to do if your vestibular system is at all involved (which it is in most cases). These are highly specialized exercises combining head and body movements that help strengthen a weak or ineffective vestibular system.

Whole body strengthening exercises are a key element of fall prevention when they are done in conjunction with balance training. Ideal strengthening exercises will focus on your legs and the muscles used in maintaining posture.

Aerobic exercise is physical exercise of relatively low intensity and long duration; it can help improve almost every aspect of your health. Walking is one of the safest forms of aerobic exercise, no matter what kind of problem you have.

Remember the saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to balance and falls. If this is a concern to you or a loved one, seek out the assistance of qualified health care providers, before you’ve fallen and can’t get up!

Darren Marchant | Profile photo, St. George News

Written by Darren Marchant.

Darren Marchant is a licensed physical therapist and CEO and founder of  Fit Physical Therapy with clinics in St. George and in Mesquite and Overton, Nevada.  He is board certified as an orthopedic clinical specialist. For other helpful articles or clinic information visit fit-pt.com.

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