1st of 2 Columns on Fall Prevention
New research shows that falls are the number one cause of serious orthopedic injuries such as hip fractures in the elderly. As a result, falls prevention has become a health care priority. Studies also show that a comprehensive medical evaluation and a falls prevention rehabilitation program are very effective in lower the risk of falls
To determine your risk first it is necessary to define “a fall”. A fall is an unplanned, unexpected contact with a supporting surface. A supporting surface is not only the floor or ground, but could be a chair (when rising and you fall backwards), a wall (when loss of balance causes you to bump into a wall) or a counter (when reaching overhead loss of balance causes you to bump into the countertop).
How likely are you to fall? Two quick tests that can determine your fall risk:
***BE SURE TO HAVE SOMEONE STANDING AT YOUR SIDE DURING THIS TEST TO MAKE SURE YOU DON’T FALL!
Age related changes in strength, endurance, flexibility, reflexes, vision and posture creates a greater risk of falls in the elderly. The strength and endurance of your leg muscles decline with age. Strength can be reduced up to 40% by 80 years of age! The flexibility of your spine as well as ankle joints diminishes. Arthritis and pain can further limit motion in these joints. A stooped posture interferes with proper postural alignment and increases fall risk. Ankle flexibility is essential for effective balance responses and reflexes. Diminished sensation in the legs and feet (i.e. peripheral neuropathy) decreases responses to balance threats. Cataracts, macular degeneration and retinal disease reduce your ability to use vision to maintain and/or regain balance and contribute to falls. Distractions can cause a fall since many older adults require more attention to complete a task safely. Anxiety and fear of falling can have a negative effect on balance performance.
Identifying and remedying all possible causes may prevent a fall. Preventing or reducing the likelihood of a fall may improve your quality of life. Elderly people who have fallen avoid performing basic physical and social activities (walking, shopping) because of fear of falling. If a fall causes a hip fracture, the resulting mobility deficits may prevent living independently and require nursing home placement. Fall prevention can lower health care costs. Health care costs of fall injuries for individuals 65 and older exceeded $19 billion in 2000.
Guest Contributor: Janet Caputo, PT, DPT, OCS specializes in orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation as an associate at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC.
Read “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune every Monday…Next Week Read: Part 2 of 2 on Fall Prevention! This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: email@example.com
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.