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Are You at Risk for Falling?

Are You at Risk for Falling?

by LeeAnn Hulteen, PT, Cert. MDTLeave a Comment

The fall season is almost over for 2019, but for adults over the age of 65 the fall season never ends. According to the National Council on Aging, one out of every four older adults fall each year and of those seniors who fall, every 11 seconds they go to an ER. What’s even more alarming is that every 19 minutes someone dies from a fall related injury. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in senior citizens.1

The US spends more than $50 billion a year on injuries due to falls and 75 percent of that figure is paid by Medicare and Medicaid.2 Treatment costs are projected to reach $101 billion by 2030.3

There are several risk factors that are predictive of falls. Unfortunately some of the risk factors are out of our control, such as age. But many of the risk factors may be eliminated or modified to reduce the chances of falling. While some of these risk factors can be addressed by your primary care doctor, others can be managed by a physical therapy program. Learn more about these risk factors below.

Demographic Risk Factors for Falls

Adults over the age of 65 have a greater risk of falls. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of death from injury in adults over 65.4 That number increases proportionately with age and by the time one reaches the age of 80, over half the population will experience a fall annually.5 Because women tend to live longer than men (and thus tend to live alone) they are disproportionately more affected by falls than men. There are even studies that associate risk according to race and ethnicity.

Fall Risk Factors that Can Be Modified

The factors that may not be able to be eliminated but can be minimized or modified include chronic disease or health conditions, polypharmacy and poor posture. Chronic conditions that are effectively managed like diabetes, heart conditions, low vision and hearing loss may reduce one’s fall risk. Adults that take more than three medications are at increased risk of falling.6 Checking with one’s doctor to reconcile all medications is a good way to help mitigate the risk of falls. Doctors may be able to reduce dosage, change the timing and possibly eliminate certain medications. In addition, poor posture can shift your center of gravity. Because poor posture develops slowly over time, one may not be able to eliminate it but may be able to increase postural awareness and prevent posture from worsening. Finally, vision and hearing may change as we get older. A regular trip to the eye doctor to screen for glaucoma, cataracts and upgrade your eyeglass prescription are recommended. A hearing screen is also helpful to address any hearing loss, for example using a hearing aid, to help maintain awareness of your surroundings.

Fall Risk Factors That Can Be Minimized or Eliminated

Risk factors that can be changed, minimized or eliminated include muscle weakness, poor flexibility, poor balance, decreased endurance and the fear of falling. Physical therapists are the experts in exercise. Improving strength, flexibility, balance and endurance can improve one’s functional mobility and may help decrease one’s fear of falling (another risk factor). Your physical therapist can screen for deficits in these areas, issue a prescribed home exercise program and work with you in the clinic setting. Therapists can also instruct in adaptive techniques, home safety and fall prevention.

Most people visit their doctor, at least yearly, for a physical. You should consider the same to assess your risk of falls. An annual fall risk assessment can be an essential part to healthy aging and fall prevention. However, with so many other things to manage during an annual physical, a physician may not have the time or the training to identify fall risk factors. Assessing your strength, flexibility, balance and endurance is what physical therapists do! Working with a physical therapist to personalize an exercise program for you to address these issues is essential to healthy aging. Checking in with a physical therapist annually could also minimize fall risk.

What can you expect from your physical therapy evaluation?

Your physical therapist will perform an evidence-based assessment and provide you with recommendations based on the results. If your therapist identifies multiple areas of concern, he or she may also recommend a more extensive physical therapy program utilizing manual therapy techniques in conjunction with exercise and safety recommendations. Your therapist can also teach you how to get up from a fall and instruct a caregiver in fall assistance when a fall is inevitable.

Identifying Fall Risk and Prevention

Falls are the leading cause of injury among adults over 65.4 A fall can result in decreased mobility, functional independence and quality of life. Because of the impact of falls on the elderly, the American Geriatrics Society recommends that all adults over the age of 65 receive an annual fall risk assessment, consisting of a falls history, medication review, physical examination, and functional and environmental assessments.7 Physical therapists are the health professionals that you can count on to assess your risk for falls and recommend a customized plan to address your fall risk. Call your local Athletico clinic today to schedule an evaluation to assess your fall risk!

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

References:
1. “Fact Sheet: Falls – The Biggest Threat To Senior Health And Safety.” Aging.com, www.aging.com/falls-fact-sheet/.
2. “Falls Prevention Facts.” NCOA, 4 June 2018, www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/falls-prevention-facts/.
3. Houry, Debra, et al. “The CDC Injury Center’s Response to the Growing Public Health Problem of Falls Among Older Adults.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, vol. 10, no. 1, 2015, pp. 74–77., doi:10.1177/1559827615600137.
4. “Keep on Your Feet-Preventing Older Adult Falls.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Sept. 2019, www.cdc.gov/injury/features/older-adult-falls/index.html.
5. StackPath, www.comfortkeepers.com/info-center/category/senior-independent-living/article/seniors-and-falls-statistics-and-prevention.
6. Jong, Marlies R. De, et al. “Drug-Related Falls in Older Patients: Implicated Drugs, Consequences, and Possible Prevention Strategies.” Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, vol. 4, no. 4, 2013, pp. 147–154., doi:10.1177/2042098613486829.
7. Phelan, Elizabeth A., et al. “Assessment and Management of Fall Risk in Primary Care Settings.” Medical Clinics of North America, vol. 99, no. 2, 2015, pp. 281–293., doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2014.11.004.

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