This past April I spent a morning at the Northbrook YMCA providing fall risk/balance screenings. I love offering this service, as I think improving balance and avoiding falls is extremely important.
My lovely assistant, my mom Anita, and I arrived at the Northbrook YMCA at 8:30 a.m. We set up the room and waited for the first person who had signed up to come in. Karen Brownlee, the adult education coordinator at the YMCA did a great job of signing people up ahead of time. As people arrived, my mother checked them in and made sure their paperwork was filled out. I assessed each person briefly, providing feedback and a copy of my Balance ebook.
By the end of the morning I had assessed 12 people. Fortunately many of the participants I saw that morning were already participating in an exercise class at the Northbrook Y to improve their balance. For the ones who were not, I recommended they follow up with me.
Falls are not a good thing
Two years ago, at age 53, I slipped on my wet kitchen floor, twisting my leg behind me and landing hard on my back and my knee. My husband had to help me up from the floor, walk me to the couch where I laid down for 20 minutes to recover from the shock. My knee pain persisted for 3 months.
My 20-year-old son typically leaps and bounds up and down the stairs. Last year, he missed a step and slid down on his back. Within seconds, he was up and moving about as if nothing had happened.
Ed, an 89-year-old man, walks with a cane and tripped over a rug. He landed on his side and bruised his leg. Luckily, he didn’t break anything, but he now has to use a walker.
Falling can happen to anyone at any age, but the older we get, the greater the possibility of falling and getting a serious injury. Older folks simply cannot bounce back from a fall like my 20-year-old son did.
As people age, the number of falls and the severity of injury resulting from falls increases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in people age 65 and older and one-third of falls occur in this age population. As a child, when you fell, you usually picked yourself back up easily and went about your day without a thought of lasting injury. Now as an older adult, it is likely you have more of a fear of falling that could lead to serious injury, long-term limitations, lack of confidence, and loss of independence.
The most common reasons for falls in older adults include a combination of changes that are often a part of the normal aging process:
- Vision loss—not seeing clearly enough to avoid falling
- Hip and leg weakness—making it harder to walk and lift your feet while stepping
- Posture and balance issues—making it harder to stand up straight
- Painful feet, back, or legs.
- Longer reaction time—taking you longer to react to something in your way
- Increased drug use and drug interactions—may cause dizziness, affect balance
- Chronic health problems—developing arthritis or weakness/loss of mobility issues following vascular events, e.g., clots, strokes, or heart attacks.
- Fear of falling – being overly cautious can have its drawbacks
Older adults with more than 2 or more of the above issues have a greater risk of falling. Common injuries due to falls in older adults include head injuries, shoulder and forearm fractures, spine fractures, pelvic fractures, and hip fractures. Sobering statistics show (National Hospital Discharge Survey) that more than 90% of these injuries are hip fractures and most (75%) occur in women. Approximately 25% of hip fracture patients will make a full recovery; 40% will require nursing home admission; 50% will be dependent upon a cane or a walker; and 20% will die within one year of the fall.
It’s best to be proactive by improving and maintaining your balance now, so you can prevent falls from happening. Like the people at the Northbook YMCA, it’s a good idea to get a physical therapy evaluation so you can prevent falls, get stronger, and improve your balance. For an assessment, you can email me or give me a call at 847-541-7600. I’d be happy to check you out.
For more information on balance, fall prevention, and exercises you can do at home to improve your balance, download my free ebook.