Most people had experienced a tumble or two during their lifetime, especially during their youth, when they were most likely to engage in physical activity. While young people are typically able to recover from a fall quite easily, the same cannot necessarily be said of older individuals. As we age, our muscles weaken significantly without regular exercise, leaving them less able to keep us upright if we lose our balance. Bones often become more brittle, which means individuals are more likely to experience a serious bone break if they do fall. In addition, an older person’s balance system simply doesn’t function as well as it once did, leading people to become a bit more clumsy and unstable, even after only a minor bump into a piece of furniture or a slight slip on a rug.
Balance problems and dizziness can be extremely difficult to live with. If this is something you or a loved one suffers from, balance therapy in NEPA may help provide relief.
Why Falling is So Serious
At best, a fall for an older person may mean further compounding health issues they already have, and at worst, it could mean experiencing permanent disability or death. According to the CDC this year, one out of four older individuals (age 65+) will fall this year, making falls the leading cause of injury for this age group. Over 50 billion is spent every year on injuries associated with falls, with 75% of the overall burden carried by Medicare and Medicaid. Sadly, more than 800,000 persons are hospitalized every year due to falling, and 300,000 of those will result in a hip replacement surgery for an older adult. Worse yet, the National Council on Aging reports that falls are the leading cause of death from injury for older individuals, causing over 27,000 individuals to lose their lives every year.
Why Do the Elderly Fall?
In addition to muscle weakness and an aging balance system, there are other reasons why the elderly are much more prone to falling than younger people. Many older individuals take medications for health issues, but the side effects lead them to feel dizzy. These bouts of dizziness typically make them more prone to falling. Other individuals may have some type of mobility restriction, such as numbness in the toes and feet (that comes with diabetes), which can lead to an overall balance deficit.
Some older individuals may develop an inner ear issue/vestibular impairment such as BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo) or a visual deficit, both of which can make it challenging to navigate obstacles properly. As mentioned earlier, muscle weakness and an aging balance system can contribute to falls by leading to poor reaction time, sensory loss, clumsiness, and experiencing moments of a loss of balance. Previous falls that led an individual to develop a concussion mean a higher likelihood they will fall again in the future.
And strange as it may sound, even bladder problems can lead to bouts of dizziness, which means that elderly people with bladder difficulties may be more prone to falling.
How to Avoid Falling
Fortunately, there are quite a few things an individual can do to decrease their chances of falling. If you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to schedule an annual physical exam with your physician. This is also the ideal time to talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking and if they are causing you to feel dizzy, faint, or off-balance. It’s also essential to have regular vision and ear screenings to catch potential issues before becoming bigger problems.
It’s also a good idea to regularly review one’s home and outdoor spaces to look for potential falling hazards such as loose throw rugs, excessive obstacles in the yard, clutter throughout the home, and exposed wires, all of which can be a trip hazard.
Physical Therapy for Balance Issues
There are effective treatments for dizziness and balance issues that can help keep many people safe. One of the best ways to improve one’s overall balance is through strengthening muscles with a regular exercise program. This is where a physical therapist can really help patients who may be hesitant to begin an exercise program on their own because of a fear of falling. A comprehensive physical therapy treatment plan can address issues like muscle weakness, ear issues such as BPPV, mobility restrictions, sensory loss, poor reaction time, and so much more.
If you or someone you know could benefit from treatment to address balance issues or dizziness, contact Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehab to determine if a physical therapist in NEPA can help.