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Watch Your Step!
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) each year, 1 in 3 adults 65 or older fall. In fact 2.2 million fall injuries among the elderly were treated in the ER departments in 2009, of which 30% suffered moderate to severe injuries such as hip fractures, spine fractures or head trauma. 70% of accidental deaths in the 75 and older age group resulted from falls.
Scary, right? Ok, let’s not panic just yet; I only use these statistics to demonstrate the severity and magnitude of a problem that quite frankly can be prevented. If you’re reading this article and are thinking to yourself that could be me, or my parents, or a loved one, then we’re getting somewhere because the first step is to identify anyone in your life that is at risk for falls. So let’s identify some of these risks:
- Balance disorder or weakness in limbs due to arthritis, history of stroke, or simple inactivity
- Gait disturbances due to poorly fitted canes, or walkers
- Certain medications or combinations or medications
- Confusion or cognitive impairment
- Postural hypotension/Syncope
- Poor vision, or vision disorder
- Vertigo, Dizziness
Some of these risk factors are just the reality of aging, an not necessarily in our control. However, counseling our seniors and their families and loved once on measures to reduce the risk of falls is essential. These measures include:
- A thorough physical exam to test balance, transfers, walking, posture and pain
- Physical Therapy and exercise to increase balance, strength in lower extremities, patient education on proper use of canes, and walkers.
- Ask a doctor or pharmacist to review medications that can cause dizziness or drowsiness
- Home safety assessment and modification to reduce tripping hazards
Specific Home Modifications:
- If possible avoid stairs, otherwise install stair handrails on both sides
- Rubber stair threads or non-stick tape on steps
- Install shower rails and bathroom rails
- Repair loose carpet and remove or secure area rugs that a cane or walker could get caught on
- Non-Slip shower mat, and/or shower chair to avoid slipping
- Although not a home modification, there are special hip protector shields that are fitted within special underwear to reduce the impact of a fall on the hips, reducing the risk of a hip fracture.
At Trinity Rehab, we specialize in the evaluation and treatment of balance dysfunction and other physical dysfunction that may increase the risk of falls. Visit our locations page to find the New Jersey location closest to you and set up an appointment today!
By Michael Rizkalla, OTR/L,MLDT