Every 11 seconds, an older adult needs emergency care because they’ve injured themselves from a fall, according to federal health statistics.
As we get older, many physical-related health issues make us more likely to lose our balance. Vision and hearing problems, medications that cause dizziness and not staying active all contribute to the risk of falling.
Although it might seem like an inevitable part of aging – it affects one-fourth of Americans over the age of 65 every year – falling can be prevented.
“If you’re feeling uncertain about your balance or you worry about falling and getting hurt, physical therapy can help you address your weaknesses,” said Marlene Kuntz, a physical therapist at Bon Secours In Motion. “The best time to come to physical therapy is before a fall happens.”
At Bon Secours In Motion, patients can take advantage of a physical therapy program designed specifically to help people prevent falling. The program starts with an assessment that calculates a person’s risk of falling. Bon Secours In Motion also offers a computerized test called SMART Balance Master®, which looks at the way the brain uses different senses to maintain balance.
“We evaluate the whole body,” Kuntz said. “We look at a person’s strength, coordination, range of motion, sensation and ability to detect joint motion.”
Over the course of eight weeks, patients work on strengthening exercises, eye focusing, balance skills and walking. The program is covered by Medicare and many other insurance plans.
“It’s a very successful program,” Kuntz said. “By the time patients get to eight weeks, they are up to 75 percent improved. They walk more easily, have better balance and feel more confident in their ability to be active.”
Aside from maintaining your strength, balance and flexibility, there are many other ways to help prevent falling. Consider these general tips to reduce your risk:
- Use night lights around your bedroom and house to help you see in the dark.
- Keep a clear path to the bathroom from your bed.
- Keep a flashlight by your bed if the power goes out in the middle of the night.
- Get rid of clutter. Stacks of magazines or clothes on the floor pose a tripping hazard.
- Keep extension cords where you don’t have to walk over them.
- Have an eye exam every year. Your vision can affect your ability to stay balanced.
- Have your hearing checked and wear hearing aids, if necessary. Hearing is another sense that your body relies on to keep from falling.
- If you get dizzy when you move from a lying down position to sitting up, give yourself time to adjust before you try to stand. Don’t stand up too quickly.
- Use a cane or walker if you need it. It may take some time getting used to a cane or walker, but they can help immensely.
- Ask your health provider if you need to take a Vitamin D supplement for bone health.
- Have handrails or bars installed in your home, especially near staircases or in the bathroom.
Remember, if you’re reluctant to go places or do things out of fear of falling, you may make your balance worse by sitting more and becoming inactive. Muscles quickly weaken when they’re not used, which can increase your risk of falling. It’s important to intervene by getting help.
“Listen to your body,” Kuntz said. “Physical therapy can help you improve your balance.”