By Charlotte Walter, PT, DPT, ATC – Physical Therapist at Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s Wyoming Rehab
Falls Prevention Awareness Day is coming on September 22, and I’d like to take this opportunity to remind folks why falls prevention is so important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one out of four older adults – those 65 and older – fall each year. These falls are serious and costly, causing broken bones or head injury. In fact, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. Falls can lead to reduced mobility, decreased independence, and an increased fear of falling, all of which profoundly affect an individual’s quality of life. However, less than half of people who do fall tell their doctor.
Falls are not a normal part of aging and can be prevented. Four key steps to falls prevention include speaking to your doctor, staying active, getting your eyes checked and making your home safer.
As mentioned above, many people who fall do not tell their doctor. However, your physician plays a crucial role in keeping you safe. They can evaluate your risk for falling, review your medications to see if any may cause dizziness or drowsiness, and offer suggestions for vitamin D supplementation, seeing a physical therapist, or seeing a podiatrist if needed. Another concern to bring up to your doctor is how frequently you get up at night to use the bathroom. Research shows that individuals that get up more than 2-3 times per night have a significantly higher risk of falling. Your doctor may suggest medications or pelvic floor physical therapy to help address this.
Simply staying active can play a major role in fall prevention. Older adults should engage in regular, intentional physical activity that builds balance, strength, and flexibility. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put most in-person exercise classes on hold, but many offerings through the Hub on Smith and the YMCA have returned. Online exercise class options via Zoom are also being offered. Contact these organizations for more information on current class schedules. Keep in mind that physical activity does not have to happen inside a gym. Strength training can be performed using objects around the home. Clear some space and dance to your favorite music to get your heart rate up. Exercise videos can be found on YouTube. Sheridan residents are fortunate to have an abundance of trails and parks available for walking, bicycling and hiking. Gardening and yard work are also forms of physical activity that don’t require exercise equipment. In short: sit less, move more.
If health conditions or physical limitations are preventing you from being physically active, ask your doctor about physical therapy. Physical therapists are highly trained health care professionals with expertise in movement and exercise. Physical therapy is not just for after a surgery or injury, but also an excellent way to prevent injury, falls or deconditioning. A physical therapist can evaluate your strength, balance and endurance and create an individualized plan to help meet your goals for physical activity. Not sure of where to start? Wyoming Rehab provides a free screening for individuals looking for treatment recommendations that do not require a physician referral. Don’t let a small barrier become a wall that continues to limit your physical activity.
When was the last time you had your eyes checked? Quality of vision is important to provide your brain with accurate information about your position in space. Conditions like cataracts and glaucoma limit your vision. If your eyeglass prescription is outdated or no longer appropriate, that can negatively affect your balance ability. The current recommendation is to have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year.
Another way to prevent falls is to make your home safer. Take a look around and ask yourself the following questions: Are there papers, shoes, books, or other objects on the stairs? Is a stairway light bulb burnt out? Are there handrails on both sides of the stairs? Are there throw rugs on the floor? When you walk through a room, do you have to walk around furniture? Is your step-stool sturdy? Is the light near the bed hard to reach? Is there a clear path from the bedroom to the bathroom? Is the tub or shower floor slippery? Do you need support when getting off the toilet or out of the shower? It’s time to consider these and other obstacles that can intensify someone’s fall risk in their own home.
Some easy tweaks can make a big difference. Want to learn more? Some excellent online resources include the CDC, National Council on Aging and National Institute on Aging websites. Here, you can find articles, action plans, infographics, exercise suggestions, exercise videos and more information on staying active and preventing falls.
Here in Sheridan, we are lucky to have many resources available to older adults, both in-person and online. Take the steps to keep yourself safe, active, and healthy this fall!
Do you have a condition or impairment preventing you from reaching the recommended amounts of physical activity? Don’t continue to put your health at risk. Find out how physical or occupational therapy may help. Reach out to Wyoming Rehab at 307.674.1632 if you would like to schedule a FREE Screen/Treatment Recommendation for a Non-Emergent Physical Impairment or Injury.
Learn More about Wyoming Rehab and their free screenings for non-emergent physicial impairments or injuries by clicking HERE or following the link https://www.sheridanhospital.org/medical-services/rehabilitation-services/