This past weekend I spent a few hours with some family friends.  He is 95 years old and she is in her 70’s.  We didn’t ask her age, but we knew she was about 20 years younger.  They still live in their own home and are very healthy and active.  During our conversation we talked about how active they continue to be and how it is so good to see that.  In the next sentence our 95 year old friend tells us that he just recently fell as him and his wife were trying to heave bags of mulch to their garden.  He told us the last time he fell was when he was 12.  It took him 83 years to fall again!  How amazing is that?  He did not hurt himself and said they continued with their gardening shortly afterwards.  
As we age our ability to balance decreases significantly.  Older people are at a higher risk of balance problems; nearly 75% of Americans over the age of 70 are diagnosed with abnormal balance.   Older women are more likely to develop balance problems then men.  Many factors can cause balance problems:

Muscle weakness/Joint stiffness
Inner ear problems
Lack of activity or sedentary lifestyle

Balance problems can also be caused by a medical condition including:

Multiple Sclerosis 
Brain Injury

Unfortunately balance issues are usually diagnosed after a fall.   The doctor may ask how the fall happened and what the individual was doing at the time of the fall.  They may ask what medications they are taking and if they have any any other changes in their health.  

The good news is that there are things that can be done to help lower the risk of falls.  If some of these steps are taken, the risk of falls can decrease dramatically:

Keep moving!:  Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is important.  Walking daily, climbing stairs, gardening, washing dishes are all great examples.  Anything that makes you move is great.  If you follow a fitness program, keep at it!!

Have yearly check ups:  Vision and hearing checkups are keys to make sure you do not have any vision issues that could cause you to fall as well as inner ear issues that may cause dizziness or balance issues. 

Managing and monitoring your medication:  Make note of all of the medications you take and if something changes if a medication is changed.  Take your medication list to your pharmacist.  They may be able to tell you what medications may cause dizziness or balance issues.  

Making sure your home is safe:  Address poor lit areas, throw rugs, unrestrained pets and other household obstacles that may increase your risk for falls.

Physical therapy can help as well.  Physical therapist can do several balance tests to see where there may be some deficits.  They may also assess footwear and living space.  Physical therapist can help with strengthening, reducing fear of falling, improve mobility, improve balance, flexibility and posture as well as increase activity levels.  They can set up a home exercise program to help maintain strength and balance after physical therapy is done.

If you feel you or someone you know is at risk for falls, take the steps to make sure you are decreasing your chances of falling.  Seek out a physical therapist to do a falls assessment.  Most importantly stay active and strong!  You want to have the ability to do what you enjoy for many years to come!!

Vivian Plummer-Benzick, LPTA
Zimmerman Physical Therapy

June 9th, 2015

Posted In: General

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