Each year, millions of older people—those 65 and older—fall. In fact, more than one out of four older people falls each year, but less than half tell their doctor.1 Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.2 There is no reason to remain quiet about your concerns when prevention is achievable. With a proper medical evaluation and physical therapy evaluation falls can be preventable. Through the natural aging process your bodies become less able to find equilibrium. There is decreased function of nervous, musculoskeletal, and vestibular systems. Through this series hopefully you will learn some facts on falls, preventative measures, and be encouraged to seek assistance through physical therapy to prevent falls.
As expected, falls are more common in the home which is where most of our time is spent. Looking at a general day most people wake up feeling a little stiff in the morning and potentially not fully awake. This is a great time to start moving the body in bed. Gentle bed exercises will lubricate the joints, warm up the muscles, and prepare the body for the day. Try performing some of the exercises listed below before getting out of bed and see if you feel a bit better before getting your coffee or tea.
Next, walking to the bathroom or down the hall can often be a struggle depending on your home. Is your floor clear and tidy or are there items in the way? Maintaining clear walkways is key for preventing tripping accidents, this includes securing or removing area rugs. If you need to get up in the middle of the night use a night light for some assistance without using too much light which would affect your sleep. Do you have tile or wood floors that could become slippery? How about keeping bedroom slippers with rubber tread on the bottom to decrease a risk of slipping on the floor.
Finally, assess the arrangement of your furniture in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Generally speaking the more room between the furniture the better. Due to a wider base of support, how far away your feet are spread, you will need more room for walking between rooms. As we age our bodies will find the easiest manner to accomplish tasks, which for decreased balance will involve utilizing a large base of support.
How can a physical therapist help with preventing falls Using a series of measure through a thorough interview and evaluation a plan of care can be developed. This will include strength, range of motion/flexibility, previous injuries, and specific tests for balance. Following the evaluation recommendations can be made in regards to an exercise program, an assistive device, or other recommendations for the home. Don’t fear the cane because often an assistive device such as a single point cane will be temporary until there is improve strength and balance. Stop by any of the Atlantic Physical Therapy locations in Delmarva to speak with a physical therapist about your concerns and prevent falling.
Adam Jones PT, DPT
Atlantic Physical Therapy and Rehab
1.Stevens JA, Ballesteros MF, Mack KA, Rudd RA, DeCaro E, Adler G. Gender differences in seeking care for falls in the aged Medicare Population. Am J Prev Med 2012;43:59–62.
2. O’Loughlin J et al. Incidence of and risk factors for falls and injurious falls among the community-dwelling elderly. American journal of epidemiology, 1993, 137:342-54.