Falls among the elderly are prevalent, dangerous, and can diminish their ability to lead an active and independent life. According to the National Council on Aging, about one in three seniors above age 65, and nearly one in two seniors over age 80, will fall at least once this year, many times with disastrous consequences. Physical therapists can help prevent falls with evaluation and development of individualized treatment plans including exercises to improve strength, mobility, and balance.
Risk factors associated with falls:
- Being older
- Difficulty with balance or walking
- Poor vision
- Leg or trunk weakness
- Pre-existing medical conditions, such as Parkinson disease, stroke, or
- Being on more than four medications simultaneously
- Use of an assistive walking device
- A past history of falls
Maintaining Physical Activity
The most critical action seniors can take to help prevent falls is to maintain physical activity. Physical therapists recommend activities of any fitness level, including gardening, line dancing, and yoga to help improve balance and movement. Balance may be improved with exercises that strengthen the ankle, knee, and hip muscles and with exercises that improve the function of the vestibular (balance) system.
How a Physical Therapist Can Help
Once a physical therapist has reviewed a complete medical history and thoroughly examined you, he or she will design an individualized program of exercises and activities with an emphasis on strength, flexibility, and proper gait.
A personalized plan may include a walking regimen that includes balance components such as changes in surfaces/terrains, distance, and elevations; Tai Chi (which emphasizes balance, weight shifting, coordination, and postural training); and aquatics classes geared toward balance and coordination. The physical therapist also may teach specific strengthening and balance exercises that can be performed at home. If necessary, the physical therapist will refer you to other medical professionals, such as an ophthalmologist or neurologist.