Falls Prevention Awareness

By: Tanvi Maharaja, PT, DPT

Growing up, kids fall all the time. Falling and getting up again are an integral part of the process of growing up. Unfortunately, things change dramatically as we age. After a certain point, falls can be pretty nasty.
    September 23rd is recognized as Falls Prevention Awareness Day, but is important to be aware of year round. A fall is something you don’t really pay attention to unless it happens to you or your loved ones. The cost of a fall can be incalculable in terms of injury sustained, short-term and long-term complications (compromised bone health, pressure ulcers if prolonged bed rest is indicated, circulatory or neurological issues, healing problems), psychosocial effects including loss or work, reduced activity participation, depression, and fear of future falls.
    Anyone who is 65 years of age or older, or has elders in the family, needs to recognize factors that lead to a fall. Most of them are within our control. 
    Vision is a big part of balance, so regular eye visits, and consultation with a doctor if any vision issues are noted, would be an important step. At wellness visits, make sure you tell your doctor about all the medications that you are taking, so that effects of these medicines on balance can be considered.
    Bone health is directly associated with the impact of falls. Your doctor can look at your calcium and vitamin D levels, and/or order bone scans or X-rays to determine if you need supplementation to maintain optimal bone health. Let your doctor know if you feel dizzy or lightheaded: this could be due to multiple reasons and needs to be screened thoroughly.
    Diabetics should get their feet checked, including self-checks. Diabetic neuropathy is a condition that causes reduced sensation in the feet, affecting how your brain perceives your posture. Diabetics may feel like they are “walking on cotton/clouds.” This indicates poor sensory input to the brain and needs further management.
       Regular exercise helps the brain perceive joint position better: this means that your body becomes better at maintaining you upright in case of disturbed balance on unstable surfaces and environment, such as a wet floor or a crowded mall. Exercise also helps muscles get stronger to support you as you try to brace yourself to prevent falling. Therefore, regular exercise is a great strategy to minimize falls.
    Believe it or not, most people fall inside their own homes. Your home needs a fall safety check to make it a safe environment. This includes keeping hallways and stairs clear of clutter, rugs, wires of any kind, papers, etc. and keeping these passages well-lit. Having grab bars next to the toilet and shower, using slip-resistant mats, wearing well-fitted shoes, and waist or shoulder level access to items that you need on a regular basis (thereby avoiding use of step stool) are simple things that can mean a lot in the long run.elderly-woman-fell-on-the-floor-PKKEHCB.jpg
    Any person, no matter their age, if identified as “at-risk” for fall, goes through an assessment to determine the cause. In absence of any major cause, they can enter a balance/gait program. Physical therapists treat patients with balance impairment and teach them exercises that help them minimize fall risk and improve balance, strengthen their muscles, and improve cardiovascular health. Your primary care physician can refer you to physical therapy to enroll in this program. Most patients enjoy the program and report feeling significant improvement in their balance, posture, speed of walking, and general health through simple, fun exercises.
    Minimizing fall risk is a manageable task. Given the quite deleterious affects of falls in the elderly, prevention is key. Medical science has taken great strides to mitigate the risk factors that commonly lead to falls. Awareness and information among the general population will ensure that these advancements actually reach and benefit people.
Besides being a regular Signature Moms blogger and mother of one, Tanvi is a physical therapist at Signature Healthcare. Learn more about physical therapy at Signature Healthcare by visiting bit.ly/PTshc


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