By Dan Skierski, PT, DPT, Clinic Lead, Tulsa Bone & Joint Sand Springs
October is National Physical Therapy month, so I decided to address one of the top issues therapists face in the daily lives of our patients: the risk of falling. Many of our patients fit into one of two categories.
One, they are at high risk to fall and are unaware of the risk; or two, they have suffered one or more falls resulting in injury.
According to the CDC, 30% of adults over the age of 65 suffer a fall each year. Twenty percent of these falls result in serious injuries that require emergency care. Each year, 40% of hospital admissions by elderly people are a result of injuries from falling.
Unfortunately, less than half of the people who fall will tell their primary care provider if they have been seriously injured. Once someone falls, they are at high risk for falling again. Falls are the leading cause of death in the elderly, and nearly $50 billion in medical costs are spent annually treating resulting complications.
Here is a quick assessment to see if you are at risk for falling:
- Can you rise from a chair without using your hands?
- Can you stand on one leg without quickly losing balance?
- Can you stand with your feet in tandem (one foot in front of the other) without losing balance?
Who is at risk to fall? Anyone over the age of 65, small children or individuals with a history of low back or lower body injuries. This includes individuals who have had hip, knee and ankle replacements, low back surgeries or osteoarthritis of the low back, hip, knee or ankle. Another major cause is osteoporosis due to osteoporotic hip fractures.
How can you prevent future falls?
1. Home Modification. According to the CDC, the number one way to reduce costs associated with falls is home modification. This includes eliminating obvious trip hazards such as rugs and small items on the floor, clearing large walkways in your home and outdoor area, and enhancing lighting in dimly lit areas.
2. Physical Therapy. Seeking Physical Therapy can be very beneficial for assessment of the need for an assistive device, as well as gait and balance training. Therapists can also work on lower body strengthening and the prescription of a long-term exercise regimen to maintain functional strength. Physical therapists also screen for other risk factors and address each individual’s safety needs.
3. Consider Using Safety Devices. Other means that can be used for safety are: carrying a cell phone, purchasing a life alert button or wearing a smartwatch with a 911 function.
4. Get a Bone Density Scan. Bone density testing can be done as an early detection method to treat or prevent osteoporosis and falls associated with osteoporotic hip fractures. Tulsa Bone and Joint offers DEXA Bone Scans at our Healthy Bones Center.
Falling is NOT a normal part of the aging process, and there are many measures that can be taken for prevention.