For most of your life, falls are no big deal: a small bruise, a scraped knee, a sore hip. As you age, falls become more frequent and more dangerous. One out of three older adults fall each year. One out of five of those falls result in serious injury, such as a head injury or broken bone. But falls don’t have to be a part of getting older. Many falls are preventable. With a few simple changes, you can reduce your risk of falls.
Find your balance
Your sense of balance comes from three different systems working together. Vision allows you to see where you are in space. The vestibular system consists of organs in your inner ear that sense the position of your head. The somatosensory system is like having GPS in each joint — it tells the brain how your feet and legs are positioned in comparison to the ground. If any of these systems are not functioning properly, it can affect your balance. An evaluation by a physical therapist can determine which system or systems are affected and what exercises can help them function together.
Make your home safer
More than half of all falls occur in the home. A quick safety check can eliminate hazards in the home and lower your chances of falling. Remove anything you can trip over or slip on in the high traffic areas of your house. Keep items you use regularly in places you can easily reach. Improve the lighting in your home so you can see well and avoid potential obstacles.
The fear of falling can cause you to decrease your activity, but staying active is actually one of the best methods of prevention. Lower activity levels reduce mobility and lead to muscle weakness. Research shows an effective fall prevention program should incorporate leg strengthening and balance activities. The optimal amount of training is two or more hours a week.
A physical therapist can perform a balance assessment to see whether you have instability when you walk or reach for objects and when your feet are in different positions. This assessment helps identify the areas you need to work on and the exercises that address those deficits. A PT will use a combination of strengthening, balance activities and gait training to tailor a program specific to your needs.
Have you fallen recently? The Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic can help. Call 515-271-1717 to schedule an appointment.