What is my Fall Risk?

“This is part of our on-going series of exploring neurological and degenerative conditions that can affect a number of individuals and specifically how Physical Therapy can help”

Today’s topic is What’s My Fall Risk?

This topic piggy backs off of last week where we talked about balance.   Today’s topic will discuss a common term is the medical field which is Fall Risk.  As we age we or our loved ones are at risk for falling.  The act of falling is a common fear among older adults.  The Center for Disease and Prevention reports that one out of three of older adults (> age of 65) experience one fall a year and less that 1/2 of this population discusses this with their healthcare provider.

According to the CDC falls in older adults are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries.  In 2010 they reported that 2.3 million non-fatal injuries occurred due to falls and 662,000 of these individuals were hospitalized.  Injuries that can occur are traumatic brain injuries which encompass 20% to 30% of injuries occurring from falls.  Most common fractures that occur from falling are of the spine, hip, forearm, pelvis, leg, ankle and upper arm.  Many times these injuries can increase risk of early death, propensity to keep falling, increased hospitalization time and/or transfer to assisted living or nursing facility.

Healthcare providers are trained in assessing someone’s fall risk whether it’s a family Physician, Nurse Practitioner, Wellness instructor and/or Physical Therapist.  There are simple tests that you can do at home to assess your fall risk or the risk of someone you know.  Simply try standing on one leg (it can be the leg of your choosing).  Research from Bohannon, et al. revealed normative data for single limb stance with eyes open for 60-69 years was 22.5+/-8.6 seconds, 70-79 years was 14.2+/-9.33 seconds.  Eyes closed 60-69 years was 10.2+/-8.6 seconds and 70-79 years was 4.3+/-3.0 seconds.  This is a quick and easy way to figure out if someone’s times fall within these ranges.  If they are below then they may be at greater fall risk and contacting a healthcare provider may be applicable to complete further testing.

As mentioned before the fear of falling when we get older is a limiting factor.  This in turns makes people become more sedentary and thus decreases their mobility creating a loss of physical fitness and increases their risk of falling.

Prevention is the key to decreasing one’s fall risk.  A regular exercise program is important to maintaining one’s balance and strength; programs can be easy, fun and done in the comfort of one’s home.  Review your medications with your Pharmacist and Doctor to see if some medications may be causing drowsiness or dizziness.  Make sure to get your eyes examined regularly and update your eye-glasses or contacts.  You can also make your home safer by removing clutter and tripping hazards such as throw rugs, electrical cords and other loose items.  Install hand railings on stairwells, grab bars in bathroom areas if necessary.  Assess adequacy of lightning and install night lights if appropriate.

Following some of the simple tests may help prevent a fall for you or a loved on in the future.

Reference:

Bohannon, R., Larkin, P., Cook, A., & Singer, J. (1984). Decrease in timed balance test scores with aging.Physical Therapy, 64, 1067-1070.

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