Falling: Who is at Risk?
According to Middlesex Hospital physical therapist Susan Dunn, falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults. One in four Americans age 65 or older fall every year, and your risk of falling increases as you age.
Dunn says you have a greater risk of falling if you can answer yes to any of the following questions.
- Have you fallen in the past year?
- Do you feel unsteady when standing or walking?
- Do you worry about falling
The relationship between balance and falls
Balance issues can lead to falls and are influenced by vision and input from your inner ear, along with sensory input from your feet and the joints of your lower extremities.
It is important to address balance issues and try to prevent falls. Bone quantity and quality decreases as we age, and falls can result in broken bones, especially for someone who has osteopenia or osteoporosis. Hitting your head could result in traumatic brain injury or a spinal injury.
Signs that you are having balance issues include being unsteady when you walk. You may notice a slower walking speed, need to reach for furniture or walls to steady yourself, or you may trip or stumble. You may avoid activities that you've done in the past because you fear falling.
Any visual impairment problems, such as glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration, can impact your balance. People with hearing loss, a history of vertigo and other vestibular problems can also experience poor balance.
Are you diabetic or getting cancer treatment? Decreased sensation in your feet from diabetic neuropathy or chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy can also influence your balance.
Dunn notes that if one system is not working up to par, other systems can be trained to compensate. That's where a physical therapist can help! They’ll evaluate your strength, flexibility and mobility to create a personalized training program.
How can you reduce your fall risk?
- Install grab bars in your shower and near your toilet.
- Install railings on both sides of your stairs.
- Remove throw rugs.
- Ensure that there is adequate lighting in your home, especially if you get up at night to use your bathroom.
- Clear clutter in and around your house to avoid tripping.
- Wear sensible shoes.
- Stay as active as possible! Participate in programs that challenge your balance, such as Tai Chi, at your local senior center or YMCA.
If you are experiencing balance issues, contact your primary care physician to discuss your concerns. Ultimately, they may refer you to a physical therapist.
For more information about Middlesex Hospital’s physical therapy services, visit www.middlesexhealth.org.
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