Reduce your risk of falling

Published 3:25 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2012

“I didn’t FALL, I just slipped.”  “I didn’t FALL; I lowered myself down to the floor.”  Whatever you call it, a FALL is when you unexpectedly find yourself at a lower level than you started.
September 22, 2012. First day of Fall (Autumn), and National Fall Prevention Awareness Day. Governor Perdue has declared the last week of September “Fall Prevention Awareness Week.“ According to the CDC website, one out of every three people age 65 and older will fall each year. Every 15 seconds, an older adult is treated in the Emergency Room for a fall. These statistics are staggering! The National Council on Aging reports that as our population continues to grow older, the financial toll is expected to increase and may reach $54.9 billion by 2020. As healthcare changes, our mindset must also change to include primarily preventative measures that protect our health, rather than purely reacting to an event.
Most falls can be prevented. Just because you are getting older it is not “okay” to fall. There are things you can do to decrease your chances of falling.
Take a look at yourself. Have you fallen in the last six months? This is something to discuss with your physician. The fact that you have had one fall means you are more likely to have another. Your doctor may recommend a physical therapy evaluation.  Physical therapists are trained in identifying the physical factors that increase your risk of falling.
A physical therapy evaluation is very comprehensive. You can expect to give a full history, focusing on your falls history. Hindsight is, as you’ve heard before, 20/20, and while we cannot change the fact you have fallen, we can use this information to identify problem areas that can be changed. A physical therapist will use special tests to identify muscle weakness, range of motion deficits, and issues with balance and gait. We are the experts regarding development of home exercise programs, targeting the areas identified in the evaluation. Home modification and equipment recommendations can be made. If you are homebound, a home health physical therapist can perform an on- site home assessment for safety issues and make specific recommendations. There are also some great checklists available on the Internet that can guide you through any changes that need to be made in your home.
This physical assessment is only one part, however, of your strategy to reduce risk of falls. Talk with your doctor and pharmacist regarding the number of medications (and type) you are taking. Some medications alone increase the risk of falls. The standard is that anyone taking four or more prescription medications is at risk of falls. Most people that I know are in this category, and the solution is NOT usually as simple as “stop taking the medication.” Talk with your doctor and discuss ways to reduce your prescriptions. And as a hint, it is probably going to involve some lifestyle and activity changes (diet, exercise = weight loss…) to reduce some of the medications you are taking.
So as we are entering Fall (the season), let’s focus our efforts on reducing our risk of falls.  “Don’t FALL this FALL!” (It HAD to be said…)

Maria Stalls, PT is the physical therapy manager at Vidant Beaufort Hospital and has been with Beaufort for over 15 years.