By Dr. Deidra Broderick, PT, DPT
According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 4 Americans ages 65+ fall each year. Falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury or deaths worldwide. Each year, an estimated 646,000 individuals die from falls globally. Research demonstrates that access to exercise and balance training programs reduces the risk of falling and injuries from falls. Falls are expensive, the CDC reported in 2019 that $50 billion, a number that’s expected to double by 2030, was spent on medical costs associated with falls.
The US Department of Health and Human Services found in 2018 that older adults who engage in physical activity reduce the risk of falling and injuries from falls. The best programs are multicomponent—they include more than 1 type of physical activity, such as aerobic, strengthening, and balance—and are the most successful at reducing falls and injuries.
Research published in Osteoporis International in 2011 and the National Review Endocrinol in 2010 found that osteoporosis and fall reduction in community-dwelling older adults which was individually tailored and prescribed muscle strengthening and balance retraining exercises can reduce the number of falls and fall-related injuries by 35%.
According to additional research in 2018, patient education on fall prevention interventions at home is a very important component to reduce falls at home. The Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy found that using walking aids is a risk factor for future falls among the older population living in residential settings. By providing appropriate instruction and training on the proper use of walking aids, physical therapists can help you reduce your fall risk.
For anyone who has fallen, the fear of falling again can be overwhelming, and may lead to an associated loss of independence and social isolation.
Falls can be prevented!
The Committee on Aging made recommendations in the following key areas: raising awareness about falls-related risks and improving screenings and referrals, targeting modifiable risk factors and reducing the use of drugs that can contribute to falls.
Step 1: The most important step for seniors and their family members is to consult with a physical therapist for a fall-risk screening, which helps to identify each patient’s unique strengths and functional limitations. A comprehensive balance therapy program includes an evaluation of a
patient’s gait, or walking skills, to determine potential problems with strength, posture and other conditions. An experienced physical therapist will develop an individualized program for core and lower extremity strength, balance, endurance and flexibility, and outline steps to prevent future falls.
Step 2: Assess the home environment. Keep floors, hallways and stairs free of clutter (no rugs unless they are secured to the floor), and ensure that indoor and outdoor walkways are well-lit. Consider adding grab bars in the shower or bathtub, as well as handrails on both sides of staircases. Make sure sidewalks have no cracks that are trip hazards and that steps are not too steep. Prioritize regular exercise. Minimal impact exercises, such as swimming and walking, can help build stability, strength and flexibility, abilities that often decline as individuals age.
Step 3: Examine prescription labels. Understand potential side effects with medications, which can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea or sleepiness.
Other factors to reduce risks of falls include visiting your primary care provider. Annual appointments to your doctor are important, but yearly visits to an optometrist and otolaryngologist (ENT) are equally vital. Your eyes and ears are two very important keys to stability as you age.
As always, consult with a trained medical professional prior to making any substantial exercise, dietary or lifestyle changes.
About the Author
Dr. Deidra Broderick, PT, DPT, Physical therapist at FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers, which has over 400 nationwide clinics. For more information, please visit Fyzical.com.