It is not uncommon to hear anyone over the age of 50 to say, “I am not moving around as well as I used to”. Many accept that as just a part of life. The problem is that this complacency can have very real consequences to everyone. It can require increased care for a parent, it can result in a move from home, and it can cost a lot of money.
According to the Center For Disease Control, 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 fall each year, 20 to 30% of which suffer what are classified as moderate to severe injuries. As a result of 2.4 non-fatal falls which leads a to an estimated 660,000 hospital admissions per year.
Benjamin Franklin noted long ago, that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” so it is important to take note of the following:
FALLS ARE PREVENTABLE.
Many fail to remember or ignore this fact, but you can often do so with very little work and, in many cases, little to no out of pocket cost. Dr. Betty Perkins-Carpenter, who is on the President’s council of Physical Fitness and Sport acknowledges that, “It is not always possible to prevent the illnesses that change our live, but it is possible to prevent or minimize most of the falls that plague our senior citizens.”
Many know the basics, and things such as pulling up throw rugs modify lighting with auto timers for the evening are often done. However, both family members and some medical professionals often think they are helping when they are actually, and unknowingly INCREASING the risk of falls.
When someone is losing their balance, the first thought is to get a cane, a quad cane, walker or other assistive device. In many places this is sole responsibility of the physical therapy team. In fact, at Johns Hopkins, the surgical patients are not allowed to leave the hospital until they were properly outfitted with a device and properly instructed in its safe and proper use.
Often devices are purchased at a pharmacy or given by a medical professional other than a physical therapist with the assumption that use is intuitive; it is not.
The incorrect device or a correct, but not properly sized device can actually increase your risk of falls.
As easy as it looks, there are nuances to choosing, sizing, and prescribing an assistive device, not to mention proper usage and, in some cases, the amount of practice that is required to use it correctly and safely. This education is included in the extensive post graduate course work in physical therapy school. In fact the billing code for gait training it unique to physical therapists and physical therapy.
The advantage, when you utilize a physical therapist the service is covered by medical insurance and does not require a doctor’s referral.
PREVENTION CAN BE EASY
Many know that physical therapists are experts in conservative, non-pharmaceutical pain relief; they are also experts in how the body moves and, more importantly, how the body compensates.
In addition to being able to examine and inform you of why you back may hurt as a result of the way your foot touches the ground when you walk, they can examine your balance centers, watch how you walk and move, identify what needs work and come up with a treatment plan to improve your balance and decrease your risk of falls.
THE ALTERNATIVE CAN BE LIFE CHANGING, DIFFICULT AND EXPENSIVE.
Falls account for 25% of all hospital admission, 40% of all nursing home admissions. 40% of those who are admitted to the hospital never return to independent living.
In the year 2000 falls accounted for a 19 billion dollar cost to Medicare and by 2020 that number is projected to exceed $54.9 billion. When you take into further consideration that these numbers are only for the treatment and do not include the cost of assisted living or long term care they skyrocket.
Balance is the interaction of your body with gravity. The body depends on three primary balance centers: what you see with your eyes, what you detect with your inner ear and what you feel with your body. If you lose one or one is diminished, balance is more difficult. This could, to a point explain, why more falls occur at night when it is tough to see. It is incorrect to assume that balance deteriorates because of age; in fact it occurs more do to disuse. As people get older, they move less, as a result their balance centers do not benefit from the daily interaction with gravity and the become less sensitive.
A simple 5 minute balance test that evaluates your standing (static) balance and walking (dynamic) balance can quickly set a benchmark. The plan will work on the areas of weakness and in a few weeks a re-test will be administered to monitor improvement.
With a very easy physical therapy program, these three balance centers can easily improve and tests bear that out.
No matter how complex one may think a medical issue is, it is generally agreed on that, “prevention is the best medicine”. Something that can change so much, can easily be prevented with little effort or cost. All you have to do is take the first step.