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Falls Prevention

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Falls can diminish your ability to lead an active and independent life. About one third of people over the age of 65 and almost half of people over the age of 80 will fall at least once this year. There usually are several reasons for a fall. Physical therapists can help you reduce your risk of falling by:

  • Assessing your risk of falling
  • Helping you make your home as safe as possible
  • Educating you about the medical risk factors linked to falls
  • Designing individualized exercises and balance training
What Are Falls?

The reasons for falls are complex. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk. Some factors associated with the greatest fall risk are:

  • A history of previous falls
  • Balance problems
  • Leg muscle weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Taking more than 4 medications or psychoactive medications
  • Difficulty with walking
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist will conduct a brief screening check of your fall risk including:

  • Measure your leg strength, using simple tests such as timing how long it takes you to risk from a chair
  • Determine how quickly and steadily you walk
  • Assess your balance—for instance, by having you stand on one leg or rise from a chair and walk
  • Use special tests to measure your balance

Based on the evaluation results, your physical therapist will design an exercise and training program to improve your balance and strength. A recent systematic review of many published studies found that exercise-based programs in the home or in group settings are effective in preventing falls. These programs are especially effective when balance exercises are performed in a standing position without using much arm support.

Balance Training

Balance training has been shown to be an important and effective part of falls prevention. Your physical therapist will design exercises that challenge your ability to keep your balance, including such exercises as single-leg standing.

Walking and Moving

When people walk very slowly or are unsteady, they are at risk of falling. Your physical therapist can improve your walking ability by having you do such activities as:

  • Dance steps
  • Walking in circles
  • “Figure 8” exercises to strengthen the core abdominal muscles that help stabilize your body
  • Obstacle courses
Doing More Than One Thing at the Same Time—Safely

To help increase your safety during daily activities, your physical therapist can design a “dual-task” training program. This kind of training will challenge you to maintain walking speed while you do another task, such as counting backwards, engaging in a conversation, or carrying a bag of groceries.

Strength Training

Strengthening exercises are a key element of fall prevention when they are done in conjunction with balance training. Your physical therapist will design strengthening exercises that focus on your leg and the muscles used in maintaining posture.

Aerobic Training

Aerobic exercise is physical exercise of relatively low intensity and long duration; it can help improve almost every aspect of your health. Walking is one of the safest forms of aerobic exercise, no matter what kind of problem you have. Once you have begun your strengthening and balance program, your physical therapist will know when you’re ready to start aerobic exercise. Depending on your ability, the therapist might have you do three 30-minute walking sessions each week.

Education

Your physical therapist will take the time to explain to you how to best manage your own risks for falling. Your therapist also may talk to you about the best activities for you to do to maintain your quality of life.