800,000 patients per year are hospitalized because of a fall-related injury. 1 out of 5 falls cause a serious injury such as a broken hip or head injury. Physical therapy can help decrease your risk for falls! If you or a loved one are becoming more concerned with balance issues and falling, there are several things you can do to help prevent falls. Your physical therapist can play a huge role in helping. There are several factors to consider when we look at balance/fall prevention.
4 primary factors to consider:
the inner ear vision balance sensors lower body and core strength Without going into great detail, the inner ear has sensory receptors that give the brain feedback on head positioning, and thus body positioning. This system can be influenced by trauma, such as falls, motor vehicle accidents, or activities that might “jolt” the body. Dysfunction of this system leads to symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and vertigo. Our vision also plays a key part in balance. We use our eyes to focus on horizontal objects to orient us and help maintain balance. Poor vision can impair this system from optimal use. Stretch sensors strategically placed in our joints respond to changes in joint position and provide feedback to help us remain balanced. Injuries or diseases that cause swelling or edema can influence this system and decrease its efficiency. Another significant factor that directly affects balance is lower body and core strength. Lower body weakness and core muscle weakness make it more difficult to recover your balance if you lose it.
What can YOU do to decrease risk or prevent falls?
First, the basics: Choose appropriate footwear for weather and function. Make sure glasses or contacts, are of the right prescription to make vision optimal. Light up hallways/walkways at night. Make sure rugs are secure on floors or remove them. Make sure walkways remain free of ice and snow Unclutter the home and do not use furniture for support and balance since the furniture can tip or move. Consider adding grab bars in the bathroom and a double railing on the stairs. Minimize step stool standing by re-arranging kitchen or garage items for easy reach from floor level. Make sure medications are being taken at appropriate doses and do not cause significant side effects such as dizziness.
A physical therapist can provide an overall system evaluation to identify what is contributing to balance issues. Most issues can be addressed through a course of physical therapy and a personalized home exercise program. Referrals can be made for more specialized interventions like vestibular rehabilitation. Lifeline has a vestibular rehab specialist on staff.
CDC Alexander BH, Rivera FP, Wolf ME. The cost and frequency of hospitalization for fall-related injuries in older adults. American Journal of Public Health 1992:82 (7):1020-3 Sterling DA, O’Conner JA, Bonadies J. Geriatric Falls: injury severity is high and disproportionate to mechanism. Journal of Trauma-Injury, Infection and Critical Care 2001;50(1):116-9.