The impact of physical therapy on balance and fall prevention in older adults
The definition of a fall according to Google is simple: it’s when someone unintentionally rests on the ground. However, as a physical therapist for 30 years, I know that a fall involves much more than that. A fall can greatly affect someone’s lifestyle, daily routine, and emotional health. Statistics show that one out of every three older adults experiences a fall each year, with the risk of falling increasing with age.
Experiencing falls can initiate a cycle of negative events. Once the feeling of fear takes hold, it can rapidly lead to depression, lack of self-assurance, and general physical frailty, which eventually leads to more falls. Our goal as physical therapists is to prevent falls by improving strength and core muscle stability, restoring balance and equilibrium, evaluating gait and safe use of assistive devices, assessing and recommending changes to environmental hazards, managing medication appropriately, addressing foot pain with suitable footwear, enhancing coordination, and promoting emotional well-being. This is done so that we can intervene before a false sense of safety is created for the patient.
It is common for adults to have two to three chronic conditions, which increases their risk of falling. The elderly population may have up to 10 contributing conditions. Despite the belief that aging leads to weakness, decline, poor endurance, dizziness, and falls, this is not always the case. Physical therapists can help older adults improve their balance and posture, regain confidence, and be able to perform daily activities without fear of falling.
Physical therapists can help individuals prevent falls by implementing progressive fall reduction programs early on. These programs help to build confidence, strengthen leg muscles, and introduce community activities. To benefit from these programs, it is essential to commit to a daily lifestyle change of exercise, strength building, flexibility, and balance. By following these programs, individuals can prevent mental decline, uplift the spirit, promote movement, and decrease the fear and negative effects of falls.