By Kateri Kane, PT, DPT
Every year one out of three adults 65 and older experience a fall, according to the CDC. Of these individuals, 20-30% suffer moderate to severe injuries. The CDC also states that the risk of falling and being seriously injured in a fall increase with age, with 82% of deaths related to falls having occurred in people 65 and older in 2008. The question is, what can you do to avoid becoming one of these statistics?
Balance is one of the most important components of fall prevention. It can include both static (stationary sitting, standing) and dynamic (walking, turning) activities. Your body utilizes three systems in order to maintain balance: the visual, somatosensory, and vestibular systems. We could write an entire article on what these systems entail, but when it comes to your balance, these are the essentials. Vision lets you see where you’re going, the somatosensory systems lets you feel what’s under your feet (flat surface, uneven, etc.), and the vestibular system lets your brain know that you’re moving. A disruption in any of these systems can cause major balance deficits whether it is from an incorrect eyeglass prescription, peripheral neuropathy related to diabetes, vertigo, etc.
In addition to deficits in these systems, any nervous system or musculoskeletal system pathology can affect your balance. Conditions such as a stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, a hip fracture, or muscle weakness can lead to falls. So, how do you prevent this? You may not be able to prevent all the conditions mentioned previously, but being aware of your deficits and doing things to counter them is your best strategy to prevent a future fall.
Step 1: Find out what deficits are present. Certain problems may be obvious to you. For example, you may notice that you repeatedly trip over the throw rugs in your home or you stumble around in the middle of the night if you have to get up and use the restroom. Simply removing your throw rugs and placing a red nightlight in your room are quick fixes to these problems. Other problems may not be as obvious. No two people are the same so,if you have a specialist assess you, that person will be able to tell you where your individual deficits lie.
Step 2: Utilize specific exercises and balance activities to train yourself.The brain has a certain degree of plasticity, which means that it can learn new things as long as it is trained to do so. Practice and challenging your balance are the best ways to improve stability.This should always be done in a SAFE environment which is why seeing a specialist is so important when you suspect any problems with your balance.
A general guideline for those both with and without balance deficits is regular exercise and continued activity, especially weight bearing activities like walking or Tai Chi. These are good ways to maintain musculoskeletal health.
In order to continue to raise awareness about the risk of falls as well as offer an important service to the community, Advanced Physical Therapy and Fitness will be providing FREE balance screenings on Thursday, September 20, 2012 from 10am to noon. We encourage everyone to come down and be screened. Once again feel free to leave any comments or suggestions for future posts. Our next entry will be related to backpack safety as the school year gets underway. Thank you and stay active.