Finding your balance

PT Clinic - balanceHave you ever fallen? Do you ever feel unsteady or unsure of your balance? Statistics show that of people over the age of 65, 30% will fall in one year and of those 80 years or older, 50% will fall in one year. Falls cause more deaths than motor vehicle accidents. They can result in fractures, head and soft tissue injuries. Fear of falling can lead to a decline in activity and mobility which further increases the likelihood of falls. Many people believe that falling or losing one’s balance is just part of aging, and often resign to the fact that there is nothing they can do about it. A physical therapist can help you reduce your risk of falling.

There are two categories of fall risks: intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (environment). Examples of intrinsic factors are leg weakness, impaired vision, impaired walking or imbalance, four or more medications, decreased sensation, dizziness, postural hypotension, urinary incontinence, age and previous falls. You can be proactive by looking around your home and identifying, removing or repairing any extrinsic risk factors.

  • Are there throw rugs in your kitchen, bathroom or living room that could be tripped on?
  • Cords that are not secured?
  • Stairs without railings?
  • Toys from children or pets?

What can be done to improve your balance? Staying active is one of the best methods of prevention. Tai Chi classes have been proven to be effective in improving one’s balance. Making your home safer by installing grab bars in your bathroom and shower can reduce your risks of falls.

It is recommended that everyone who has Medicare be screened for a history of falls. A physical therapist can evaluate you and perform a fall assessment to determine your risk factors. They can design a program for you to improve lower extremity strength, flexibility and balance. Studies show that 50 hours of balance practice combined with a walking program over a three to six month period is needed to make a significant improvement in your balance

Additional resources:

Michelle Brown, M.S.P.T.

Michelle Brown is a physical therapist in the Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic.

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