By: Brandi Thiels, PTA
Falls are common in people over 65 years of age and can result in serious injury, and even death.
Falls are scary, and they can be disabling and create bigger injuries. These injuries can make it difficult to move and function normally. Indirectly, falls can create a significant fear of falling in many individuals, which in turn leads to less movement and activity which can then further increase the risk for another fall. Any way you slice it falls can do some serious damage to the lives and independence of older adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.5 million older adults are treated in the emergency room for fall injuries each year. The average health care cost per fall is $35,000.
Research has determined that people of all ages can vastly reduce the risk of falling through exercise that focuses on both strength and balance. In fact, multiple studies show that strength and balance training can most effectively lead to a reduction in falls among older adults.
“Our message is that some form of exercise will improve balance, and it’s never too late to exercise – specifically, exercise that challenges your balance is best,” says Elite PTA, Brandi Thiels. “Good balance allows you to react to change.” Performing safe home exercises can help strengthen your lower body to promote balance and reduce your overall fall risk, among other health benefits.
General physical activity that’s carefully executed is a great start, but to truly lower your fall risk, specific exercises are best. Strength, flexibility, balance, and proprioception (sensing your body’s location relative to other things and controlling its positioning) all tend to decline naturally in older age, so these are the areas that are most crucial to work on.
Always check with your health care provider or your Elite physical therapist before beginning a home exercise program. Brandi recommends, “Getting an individualized balance assessment by an Elite physical therapist is best if you are concerned with a family member’s or your own balance but even starting the conversation with your healthcare provider is a great first step. Everyone is different so your Elite PT will evaluate your balance and recommend appropriate exercises that are tailored to your specific needs and goals and are safe for you to perform at home.”
Want to know more about balance and how we treat it? Check out this video.
Here are some exercises your Elite PT might recommend:
For safety, position yourself near a countertop or sturdy surface that you can use for support.
1. Standing March
Standing near a sturdy support, begin marching in place slowly for 20-30 seconds. As this becomes easier, your Elite PT may challenge your balance and change up the pace and surface you are marching on: from hardwood to carpet, foam pad, grass, etc.
2. Standing 3-Way Kicks
Standing on 1 leg (with a soft, unlocked knee), slowly raise your other leg out in front of you. Keep your extended leg as straight as possible and return it to the center. Then gently lift the same leg out to the side and back down, and then extend your leg behind your body and back down. Perform as many as you can each way. Your Elite PT may increase the difficulty of this exercise by removing the supporting surface.
Facing a countertop or wall (with your hands on the counter or wall for support as needed), step sideways in 1 direction with your toes pointed straight ahead until you reach the end of the wall or counter. Then, return in the other direction. As this becomes easier, your Elite PT may add in the use of a resistance band at the knees or just above the ankles depending on your mobility and skill level.
4. 1-Leg Stand
Stand on 1 leg as long as you are able, up to 30 seconds. Remember to remain near a sturdy support surface that you can hold on if needed. Alternate legs and try to do this 3-5 times on each leg. As this becomes easier, challenge yourself by doing other tasks while standing on 1 leg, such as brushing your teeth, talking on the phone, or while doing the dishes. Balance exercises can easily be integrated into your daily routine this way.
5. Sit to Stand and Stand to Sit
Rise out of a chair without using your arms to push up. If this is difficult at first, place a firm pad underneath you on the chair seat to raise you. As you return to a seated position, slowly lower yourself all the way back down and ease into your seat (rather than dropping into the chair). Perform as many times as you are able. This can easily be done while watching TV.
6. Heel-to-Toe Standing or Walking
Place 1 foot directly in front of the other, so the heel of the front foot touches the toe of the back foot. Hold this position for as long as you are able, or up to 30 seconds. As this becomes easier, try taking a few steps in this heel-to-toe format, as if you are walking on a tight rope. Remember to use something to hold on to for safety.
Many factors can contribute to a lack of balance and falling. Older adults, especially those who have experienced dizziness, stumbling, or falls, should obtain a comprehensive evaluation from an Elite PT or another qualified health professional. All of our Elite PTs regularly work with people in balance and falls management.
Elite Physical Therapy offers a wide variety of fall prevention services for seniors and our therapists treat most types of balance disorders. Our focus is on fall prevention, and our comprehensive treatment plan has the potential to prevent 30 to 40 percent of all falls. We employ tailored balance retraining and vestibular adaptation exercises, gait and safety training, and muscle strengthening to help some of the more than 90 million people in the U.S. who are at a risk for falling.
The truth is people of all ages and all activity levels benefit from a risk assessment. Do you have private insurance? Call us at 318.443.3311 and make an appointment today for your assessment. If you have Medicare, talk to your primary care physician about getting referred to Elite Physical Therapy clinic to have a licensed therapist complete a balance and fall risk assessment to determine your risk. Imagine living without the fear of an accidental fall… Elite can help.