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Are You a Fall Risk?
By Celeste Delap, DPT
AZOPT Goodyear Physical Therapist

Falls are a serious health concern in the United States that bear significant monetary and physical costs.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of adults, 65 and older, fall each year.  Statistically, over 2.5 million fall injuries are treated every year in emergency departments resulting in over 700,000 hospitalizations and more than 21,000 deaths.  Falls are the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospitalizations and the leading cause of fatal injury for older adults.

The economic cost of falls is expected to increase to $67.7 billion per year by the year 2020.  However, the personal cost can be much higher.  Falls are linked to decreased quality of life in older adults because they limit activities and social engagements.  This results in further physical decline, depression, social isolation and feelings of helplessness.

Why is the risk of falling significantly higher in older populations?

The answer is balance.  Balance is comprised of multiple factors including intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) factors.  Intrinsic factors include muscle strength, the vestibular system (inner ear), sensory feedback from the body to the brain, and vision.  These systems work together in healthy individuals to maintain or regain balance.  Disruption in just one of these internal factors can lead to balance problems and a higher risk of falling.  There are also additional internal risk factors that can interfere with balance arising from certain medical conditions including taking multiple medications (more than 4), blood pressure changes, cognitive impairment, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and past injuries or surgeries.  All of these risk factors are more common as we age.  External factors include loose rugs, poor lighting, pets, obstacles, improper footwear, etc., and are independent of age.

Depending on the problem, people can have balance issues with standing still (static balance), moving (dynamic balance), performing more than one activity at a time (dual tasking) or walking on unsteady surfaces or in low light situations.  If you experience any of these signs you may want to seek help.

What can you do to reduce your risk of falling, or is this just an inevitable result of aging?

Aging is inevitable, but physical therapists can help decrease the risk of falls, fall related injuries, and even prevent falls from occurring.  At AZOPT, we complete thorough evaluations which are tests and measures to assess your physical and mental abilities.  We review your medical history and home safety, perform simple screens for thinking abilities, and examine footwear, nervous system function, strength, gait, and functional abilities.  All of this to properly identify the internal and external causes for the imbalance.

Once identified, your AZOPT physical therapist will develop an individualized plan to improve your balance by specifically targeting your weaknesses.  The result will help you regain confidence in your balance through improved strength.  To learn more about how physical therapy can prevent falls, please call AZOPT at 623-242-6908.