July 22, 2018
Health & Fitness
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Training Can Reduce The Risk Of Falling And Improve Balance

Beth Patterson - Patterson Physical Therapy
Beth Patterson - Patterson Physical Therapy's picture
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August 10, 2017

Falling is a serious and concerning issue. About one-third of people over the age of 65 fall each year, and the risk of falls increases proportionately with age. More than half of seniors age 80 or older fall annually. Falls have accounted for up to 25 percent of hospital admissions, and of those patients admitted, many do not return to independent living. Thirty to 50 percent of elders report that fear of another fall results in loss of confidence and causes self-imposed restriction of activities, thereby increasing the risk of falls. Not moving due to fear of falling is not the correct solution!

Identifying the problem is the first step toward keeping yourself or a loved one from falling. Look for warning signs such as difficulty climbing stairs without leaning heavily on a rail; fatigue when performing basic tasks like housework; leaning on furniture to cross a room; hesitancy walking and negotiating steps and uneven surfaces; requiring more assistance getting in and out of chairs, a car, or a shower or bath; changes in gait—excessive slowness; favoring one side over another; shuffling; or avoiding bathing and changing clothes. Seniors may also avoid other basic tasks because of fear of falls or injuries.

Medical studies conclude that exercise not only reduces the odds of falling but also decreases the odds of sustaining fall-related injuries. French researchers recently analyzed the results of 17 trials that tested the effectiveness of fall-prevention exercises in reducing seniors’ risk of falls and fall-related injuries. Overall, exercise programs reduced falls that caused injuries by 37 percent, falls leading to serious injuries by 43 percent, and broken bones by 61 percent.

We need to move. We need to train and exercise safely. We all agree that falling is not good. Physical therapists are experts in prescribing active movement techniques and physical exercise to improve your balance systems. These balance systems include proprioception/somatosensory, visual and vestibular systems. Physical therapists perform a thorough evaluation to identify deficits and then design a program for your specific needs. By consistently retesting to be sure you are progressing, they can make frequent adjustments based on your progress and needs. A balance and fall-prevention program should include the following components.

Reduce Fall Risk: Reduce home hazards such as loose rugs, poor lighting or other possible obstacles.

Improve Mobility: Tight muscles especially in the calf, legs and hips can lead to changes in your gait or walking. For example, if your calf muscles limit your ankle mobility, you have less ability to adjust to uneven surfaces, and your speed of walking will decrease.

Loss of muscle and joint mobility can affect movement and posture. A forward, bent posture will change your center of gravity and impact your functional ability to move. Good posture can improve your balance.

Improve Balance: Exercises that challenge both static and dynamic balance need to be incorporated and will be progressively challenging as your skills improve. All three balance systems need to be assessed and trained.

Improve Strength: Strengthening muscles in the trunk, legs, hip and stomach (or core) can be especially helpful in improving balance.

Reduce Fear of Falling: Addressing the strength, mobility and balance deficits will help give you the confidence to regain your ability to move and perform daily activities. We must reduce the fear of moving, because we know that becoming more sedentary leads to further loss of movement.

Improving your balance skills is important, because as we age, balance is critical to maintaining our independence. Staying physically fit and active can help!

For more information, contact Patterson Physical Therapy at 410-647-1961 or visit www.pattersonpt.com.

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