In the winter, falling on ice becomes more prevalent, but falls that result in injury are a common occurrence throughout the entire year. In fact, 50 percent of all accidental deaths that occur at home are related to falling; 25 percent of all work-related injuries are fall-related; and the older generation is the most vulnerable, because 33 percent of people 65 or older will experience at least one fall over the next year. It is important to know some of the reasons for falling. as well as steps that can be taken to reduce the risks.
There are two main reasons for falling—environment and balance. The environment (icy surfaces, wet floors, etc.) in which we live may cause us to slip, or we might trip over objects such as rugs, cords, pets or toys. The best way to prevent slips and falls is to inspect our house or workplace for such obstacles and remove or place them in less-trafficked areas. In the case of slippery surfaces, take steps to maintain traction on the surface. Reduce slipping by salting icy surfaces and/or adding non-slip pads to areas that frequently become wet. This is especially important for seniors because their balance, reactions, vision and overall strength can reduce their ability to maneuver around such impediments.
Loss of balance is most evident with older adults because it is controlled by three systems that are susceptible to the aging process: our vision, our inner ear and our sense of touch (feeling the ground under our feet). These systems can each be affected by a variety of factors, including side effects from medications or diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes that can often be managed by a physician. In some cases, services such as physical therapy or an optical exam can help discover loss of function in one of these systems, or at least teach some strategies to compensate for loss of function by maximizing function in the other two systems. Having our vision checked regularly, using an ambulatory aid such as a cane and generally maintaining an active lifestyle can help overcome some balance deficits.
Physical therapy can be of assistance when it comes to regaining strength and range of motion after a fall, but also by preventing falls before they happen. Physical therapists can treat conditions such as balance disorders and vertigo in order to diminish the risk of falling.
Marty O’Shea, PT, is the owner of ARC Physical Therapy, with locations in Chicago, Elmhurst, Westmont, Hinsdale and Orland Park. For a free consultation, call 630-832-6919 or visit arc-pt.com for more information. See ad on page 13.