Research has shown that approximately 1/3 of all adults over the age of 65 suffer from at least one fall annually, the prevalence increases to 50 percent in adults over the age of 80. Falls are not only an inconvenience, but have also contributed in a major way to health care costs and disability in the older adults. Studies have shown that 20 percent of falls require some sort of medical attention. Furthermore, up to 10 percent of people who suffer from a fall sustain major injury such as major contusion/laceration, head trauma and disabling fractures. Fractures are a greater risk for patients with osteoporosis. You may also be surprised to find out that complications from falls are the leading cause of death from injury in adults over the age of 65.
There are multiple reasons why people fall and they include prior history of falls, visual deficits, gait abnormality, lower extremity weakness, arthritis, balance deficits and environmental hazards. As we age balance regresses, joints become more arthritic, flexibility decreases and reaction time slows down. However, balance impairments can be improved and the risk for falls can be reduced, with practice.
Medical studies show effectiveness of physical therapy interventions in treatment of balance dysfunction and therefore decreasing the risk for falls. Exercise programs may target strength, balance, flexibility or endurance. Programs that contain two or more of these components reduce rate of falls and number of people falling.
A skilled physical therapist is capable of accurately diagnosing balance dysfunction and risk for falls by a comprehensive evaluation including history taking, physical examination, as well as functional/balance tests. Physical therapy treatment should be patient specific and based on needs established during initial evaluation. Most often it will consist of a combination of balance activities, functional training, strengthening and stabilization exercises, as well as environmental awareness/modification training with the patient.