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Balance and Fall Prevention

By Misty Kirk, PT

A fall is defined as dropping or descending under the force of gravity to a lower place through loss or lack of support.  In 2001, it was reported that 1.6 million seniors were treated in the emergency room as a result of fall-related injuries. One in every three adults 65 and older fall at home each year.  After the age of 60, the incidence and resulting complications of a fall increase. Falls can occur anywhere and at any time while at home or in the community. Many times people are embarrassed to report a fall because it signifies that they are aging. These falls can cause serious injury and even death.

Balance is defined as a state of equilibrium or equipoise. It is the ability to control and maintain your body’s position as it moves through space and is an integral part of daily life. There are many conditions that can attribute to falls in the aging adult population. These conditions impair ones sense of balance.  The effects of aging are the most common causes of balance problems, but injury and disease can also create problems.

Causes of Increased Fall Risk Include:
• Impaired Strength, Flexibility and Endurance
• Poor Posture (Slouching forward and rounded shoulders can cause unsteadiness)
• Disease (Diabetes, Osteoporosis)
• Home Hazards (lighting, obstructed walkways, small pets, cords, etc)
• Winter Conditions (slick sidewalks, high winds, icy parking lots)
• Medications (tranquilizers, heart medicines, blood pressure, etc)

Common Warning Signs For Falling Are:
• Felling pain or stiffness when you walk
• Needing to walk slower or to hold on to things for support
• Feeling dizzy or unsteady when you get up from your chair or bed
• Feeling weak in your legs
• You have problems with seeing
• You have had at least one fall in the past year

Fall Proofing Your Home
When fall proofing your home, you need to look at lighting. Is the lighting adequate, especially at night? Are stairwells well lit? Is there a working flashlight in case of power failure? Can lights easily be turned on even before entering a dark room? Also check the surfaces you are walking on. Are there any surfaces that are frequently wet? Are steps and stair in good repair and the appropriate rise? Do steps have handrails in good repair? Finally, check for trip hazards. Are there throw rugs in the walking path? Does the family pet often sleep in walking paths? Is the carpet in good repair without tears or fraying? Are there extension cords or raised door sills in the walking paths? Is there a clear path from the bed to the bathroom?

Fall Prevention Program
Fall prevention programs offered by physical therapists are designed to increase independence with functional activities while increasing safety awareness and decreasing fall risk. Research has shown that fall prevention programs must cover a broad spectrum of treatment. This means that in addition to addressing strength and balance, all underlying factors must be considered when reducing a patients risk for falls. The therapist will start with using the results and assessments from clinically appropriate outcome measures and establishing a problem list from this information. They must look at the body structure and function as well as the activity limitations of the patient. This information aides the therapist in determining patient centered goals.

Misty Kirk, PT
Misty is a Tippah County Native in North Mississippi. She attended Walnut High School and went on to attend Blue Mountain College graduating with a BS in Biology and Chemistry.  She received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center of Memphis in 2006.

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