One third of Americans aged 65 and greater fall each year, and it is the leading cause of fatal injury among older adults. Older women in particular fall more often and due to greater rates of osteoporosis, are also more prone to fractures from falls. Fractures of the hip in particular become fatal, and recovering from such injuries later in life becomes increasingly difficult and can cause a downward spiral in overall health.
There are many steps that older adults can take in an attempt to decrease their chances of falling and subsequent injury. These step include talking with your doctor about your risk of falling, having your eyes checked, getting screened for osteoporosis, performing strength and balance exercises, and modifying the home to be safer.
Discussion with your doctor can provide you with some valuable information regarding your fall risk and if any medications you are currently on may make you more prone to falls. Having your eyesight assessed may also let you know if you are at risk for tripping or bumping into objects you can’t, but should be able to see, as well as if your vision is disturbing your balance directly. Getting screened for osteoporosis can detect if you are more prone to fractures in case a fall should occur and health care providers can give you a way to help increase the strength of your bones. Lastly, seeing a physical therapist about strength/balance exercises as well as home modifications can further reduce your risk of falls. Balance exercises provide your body with an increased ability to detect where your body is in space relative to gravity, and how you can move your body safely without falling. Strengthening exercises make it easier for your muscles to stand upright, travel up and down stairs, and catch your balance should you become unsteady. In addition, there are many steps that can be taken to make the home safer by moving objects that could be tripped over, adding wall mounted bars for further stability when balance may be compromised such as in the bathroom or stairs, and making sure lighting in pathways is adequate to avoid tripping over hidden objects and allow for your body to use visual information as an additional method of maintaining your balance.
Physical therapists use various tools in order to assess your balance and determine possible fall risks. Frequently used tests include Tinetti Test, Berg Balance Scale, Functional Gait Assessment, Four Square Step Test, and Timed up and Go Test. These tests assess various aspects of balance including how well you can stand with both legs, or just with one leg, with eyes open or eyes closed, how your balance differs in sitting vs. standing, as well as how well you stand in place versus with movement and reaching activities. These tests not only give valuable information on your fall risk, but also, which activities in your daily life are you most at risk of falling. This also allows physical therapists to focus your balance drills on where you are most limited.
Preventing falls has become very important to maintain a community’s overall health. If you believe you may be at risk, or simply don’t feel steady on your feet, physical therapy may be helpful to you. Connecticut allows for direct access, which allows you to get evaluated by a physical therapist without having to see your doctor first. After that, your physical therapist and doctor will work together to determine if you are at risk of falls and what steps should be taken to keep your safety and health a top priority.
Rob Presta is a licensed physical therapist, graduating with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac University. He has worked with patients of various diagnoses and demographics, with a focus on the outpatient orthopedic setting. Besides working as a physical therapist, he has a particular interest in physical performance, strength, and conditioning. His research on biceps brachii torque curve analysis˗to help further biceps strengthening protocols—was showcased at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting. As a therapist at Amity Physical Therapy, Rob is currently looking at furthering his knowledge base with continued education in areas such as the Selective Functional Movement Assessment.
Amity Physical Therapy was founded twelve years ago by Michael Dow MSPT and CEO/Director. The practice has three offices: Woodbridge, Hamden and Branford. For more information, call 203-389-4593 or visit amitypt.com.
By Rob Presta DPT