Katie Thompson, OT | Clinic Manager
Falls and fear of falling can diminish your ability to lead a full, independent life. A fall can result in unwanted outcomes, including injury, loss of independence and decreased ability to do the things that are fun or important to you.
You can prevent falling by engaging in physical activities you enjoy and working with a physical or occupational therapist to improve your balance, muscle strength and endurance.
What are Falls?
A fall is any event that leads to unplanned contact with a supporting surface — such as the floor or a piece of furniture — that is not the result of a push or shove or the result of a medical event, such as a heart attack or fainting.
A near-fall is a stumble or loss of balance that would result in a fall if you were unable to catch yourself.
There are numerous risk factors that can increase your risk for falls, including:
- History of a previous fall
- Being female
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Taking too many medications or taking certain types of medications.
- Recent hospitalization
- Balance and walking issues, including dizziness when standing up
- Problems with vision or touch sensation
- Medical issues such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, Parkinson disease or Alzheimer disease
- Depression and anxiety
- Home hazards (throw rugs, poor lighting or a lack of handrails on stairs)
- Inappropriate footwear
The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of falling. Older adults should be screened on a yearly basis to help determine their risk for falling.
How Can A Physical or Occupational Therapist Help?
There is no single test that can predict a fall, but a physical or occupational therapist can provide a thorough evaluation to assess your risk of future falls. If you have any of the risk factors mentioned above or are otherwise worried about falling.
Your therapist will start by screening you for risk factors. If the results show that you are at risk for falls, you’ll undergo a thorough evaluation, including:
- Review of your medical history
- Review of your medications
- Simple vision test
- Home safety assessment
- Simple test of your thinking abilities
- Check of your heart rate and blood pressure measurements at rest and while you change positions (from sitting/lying to standing)
- Foot and footwear assessment
- Balance, strength and walking ability assessment
Based on the evaluation results, your therapist will design a plan that is tailored to your needs.
Your treatment plan may include:
Balance training: Your therapist will design exercises that challenge your ability to keep your balance as well as recover from a loss of balance.
Doing more than one thing at the same time, safely: To help increase your safety during daily activities, your therapist can design a plan that will challenge you to maintain walking speed while you perform another task, such as counting backward, engaging in a conversation or carrying a bag of groceries.
Strength training: Strengthening exercises can be effective in preventing falls, especially when combined with balance exercises.
Pain management: Certain exercises can help relieve pain in addition to decreasing fall risk. Therapy can help reduce or eliminate need for pain medication, including opioids.
Education on home safety: Your therapist can improve the safety of your home environment by recommending removal of potential hazards such as throw rugs and clutter, adjusting how you perform your daily activities, discussing proper nutrition and sleep schedules, helping you choose appropriate footwear and providing additional information to reduce your fall risk.
Therapy can build confidence and help you get back to the activities you’ve avoided due to fear of falling. Your individual assessment may also identify the activities that you actually should avoid to stay safe.