Every September during National Falls Prevention Week, physical therapists join other medical professions across the country in reminding Americans that falls are not just common among older Americans. They’re often debilitating, costly and even deadly.
They’re also largely preventable, says Peoria physical therapist Cindy Rankin.
“Falls present a real public health problem among older adults, but so often they’re caused by things that are easy to identify and fix,” said Rankin, Regional Director of Professional Therapy Services in 12 locations in Southern and Central Illinois.
“Balance and strength issues, trip hazards in the home, poor vision, and even certain prescription medications can increase someone’s chance of falling,” Rankin added. “These are all things that can and should be addressed as people enter their golden years, before they experience a fall.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in four Americans 65 and older experience a fall each year. Less than half actually report the incident to a doctor or loved one.
Of those falls, about one in every five results in a serious injury (i.e., a broken bone or head injury), leading to more than 3 million emergency room visits and 800,000 hospitalizations each year. In 2015, these treatments and hospitalizations cost a total of about $50 billion, three-fourths of which was paid for through Medicare and Medicaid.
According to Rankin, the following beliefs or either incorrect, misleading, or both:
Falling is just a part of getting older. Wrong. Falling does not have to be a part of aging. As already discussed, the most common causes of falls are easy to identify and fix before a fall happens.
I won’t fall if I just stay home and limit my activities. Wrong. Reducing activity, can actually increase your chances of falling. When you become more sedentary is when you begin to lose muscle mass, flexibility, and range of motion, which can drastically affect your balance.
Declining strength and flexibility are inevitable. Yes, it’s true the body tends to become weaker and less flexible as we age, but most older adults can recoup and maintain a lot of this through regular exercise and activity. It’s never too late to improve your strength, flexibility and balance.
Following an initial evaluation, a physical therapist can create you a personalized fall prevention program that may include exercise, a home safety assessment, and perhaps the use of a walking aid. To learn more, contact the team at Professional Therapy Services today.