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Fall Prevention in Older Adults

Every year it is reported that 1 in 4 older adults will fall.  Many people believe that falls are a normal part of aging.  Unfortunately, that is not the case and can ultimately lead to decreased activities and impede on an otherwise independent lifestyle as well as lead to injury and even death.  Many are fearful of falling and will avoid leaving their homes and engaging in their communities.  Research indicates that older adults are able to reduce their risk of falling by addressing several areas.  Preventative care and education are valuable tools to limit risk of injury related to falling.

First, it is important to assess for your individual risk of falling.  Performance of standardized balance assessments can indicate specific limitations and a Physical Therapist can develop a customized plan to address your individualized needs.  These tests utilize activities which require several areas of your body to work together in order to complete successfully.  These systems include motor control, somatosensory, and cognition.

Motor control includes several areas related to musculature.  Strength, endurance, and power are important in a person’s ability to maintain balance and stability.  If there are deficits determined in this area treatments may include specific exercises for strength and extensibility of the lower extremities.  This can include strengthening of specific muscles including the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves as well as working in functional movement patterns such as performing squats or ascending and descending stairs.  Our motor system has reduced motor neurons as we age which results in decreased strength.

The somatosensory system provides your brain with feedback related to sensation, vision, and the vestibular system.  This relates to what your feet feel when walking on different types of surfaces such as pavement, gravel, or grass.  This also correlates to how your brain perceives where your body is in space.  Coordination of head movements with eye movements and what your brain interprets allows your body to move or be still without feeling dizzy.  As we age, visual deficits can occur such as decreased depth perception, acuity, and limitations in the available visual field.  The vestibular system can also lose cells which can increase dizziness and instability.  Sensory changes such as neuropathy can limit a person’s ability to feel changes in surfaces or their ability to react to vibrations or other types of stimuli.

Cognition plays a very important role is fall prevention.  A person’s judgement can influence one’s risk of falling.  This includes one’s ability to assess a situation or environment for safety and manageability.  This can include identifying areas within the home that are dangerous or activities that may require more strength and stability than a person may realize they have.  Another issue requiring cognitive awareness would be multitasking.  This is an ever increasingly relevant issue in a world with quick and easy access to smartphones.

Falls are preventable.  Injuries and death related to falls are preventable.

Lindsay Richard DPT is a therapist in Amity Physical Therapy’s Hamden office.  Richard, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, received her doctorate degree from Sacred Heart University.  Her experience includes orthopedics in Fairfield County, clinical rotations at Madison House in Madison CT, with similar clinical assignments at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Bridgeport Hospital Burn Unit, and Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation.

Amity Physical Therapy was founded by Michael Dow MSPT, CEO/Director fifteen years ago and maintains three offices in the Greater New Haven area:  Woodbridge, Branford, and Hamden.  Lindsay Richard can be reached at 203-691-6248 or visit www.amitypt.com.

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