Falls

A man helps a woman up after falling. Falls are one of the most common sources of injury.

Stock photo

As we continue through another cold Montana winter, it is important to maintain our health and stay injury free. Falls are one of the biggest public health epidemics of this decade. More than 30 percent of people aged 65 years and older and more than 50 percent of people aged 80 years and older will fall every year (Stevens 2011). Falls are the leading cause of head injuries and fractures in older adults. Severe consequences of falls can also include loss of confidence, loss of independence and even death. The economic costs of falls are significant. Therefore, healthcare costs can be reduced if falls are reduced. Falling is not an inevitable part of aging. The majority of falls occur because of multiple interacting factors including leg muscle weakness and impaired balance. Strength, flexibility, balance and reaction time are easily modifiable risk factors for falls. People of all ages can improve their strength and balance to achieve stability and reduce falls. Through practical lifestyle adjustments, evidence-based programs and community partnerships, the number of falls among seniors can be reduced substantially.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) presents six steps to prevent falls: First, find a good balance and exercise program. Continue to build your balance, strength and flexibility through programs in the community or working with your physical therapist. Second, talk to your health care provider about your history of falls or your apprehension about exercise. Ask them to assess your risk of falling so they can refer you to get help. Third, regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Polypharmacy and medication side effects are significant problems in the aging population and may increase your risk of falling. Fourth, get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eye glasses. Your balance relies on the delicate interaction of your vision, your ears and your joints to provide feedback to where your body is in space.Fifth, keep your home safe. Remove any hazards such as throw rugs and clutter to avoid tripping in your home. Increase the lighting; make stairs safe with railings and install grab bars where needed. Sixth, talk to your family members to get their support to take these simple steps to stay safe.

The first step to preventing falls is finding a good balance and exercise program. The NCOA supports the implementation of evidence-based falls prevention programs. So what is an evidence-based fall prevention program? They are programs developed and tested rigorously through many trials and have statistically significant results. They target a specific population, have measurable goals and a structured time frame. These programs include The Otago Exercise Program, Stepping On and Tai Chi among many others.

The Otago Exercise Program was developed in New Zealand and adopted by the CDC. It is an individual program of muscle strengthening and balance exercises prescribed by a physical therapist. It is designed to target older adults (aged 80+) living at home who have fallen in the last year or have muscle weakness and balance difficulties due to multiple factors. The physical therapist will individualize the program and transition the client to doing it independently in their home. Engaging in this program over a long duration of 52 weeks has been proven to reduce falls by 35 percent (Campbell 2003).

Starting Jan. 9, Marcus Daly Rehabilitation Center is offering a four week “Balance for You” exercise program. Balance exercises can help prevent falls and avoid the disability that may result from falling. Each year, more than two million older Americans go to the emergency room because of fall-related injuries. Join us for the next four weeks, on Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 1 p,m., we want to safely help you improve your balance, flexibility and strength. Space is limited, call 406-375-4570 to register.

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This health column is brought to you by Marcus Daly Rehabilitation Services. It is never to late to get physical, occupational and or speech therapies. For additional information, questions and or comments, please contact Travis Williams DPT, Marcus Daly Rehabilitation Center at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!

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