Fall Prevention: Keeping you on your feet

Fall Prevention: Keeping you on your feet

Physical and occupational therapy are most routinely prescribed following an accident, injury or illness to help restore a person’s ability to perform daily tasks. However, that’s not the only time it’s appropriate, according to the experts. Physical and occupational therapy interventions can help significantly reduce a person’s risk of falling and experiencing an injury. We sat down with Leslie Ritter, MSPT, DPT, to learn the important role that therapy can play in helping to prevent falls and injuries associated with falls.

According to CDC, more than one third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States and 20% to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries. What makes seniors a heightened fall risk?

Falls can happen at any age or stage in life however, seniors are at an increased risk of falling due to a decline in their physical and cognitive abilities. As we age, it’s common to experience a general decline in function such as weakened endurance, loss of vision, weakened posture and balance deficits caused by orthopedic conditions or vestibular disorders.

The decline in our physical abilities may be gradual and the loss of function may not immediately impact our ability to do what we love. However, these changes when coupled with environmental hazards such as icy sidewalks or obstacles in the home can impact our safety and increase the risk of falls. In addition to having an increased risk of falling, seniors are also more likely to suffer a broken bone as a result of a fall due to osteoporosis.

So is it just seniors who are at risk of falling?

While seniors experience a heightened fall risk, anyone experiencing a change in physical and/or cognitive abilities due to an illness or injury can be at risk of falling. The most common causes are:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty with balance or walking
  • Vision problems
  • Pre-existing medical conditions that limit mobility, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or diabetes
  • Conditions that cause confusion such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Use of an assistive walking device
  • Environmental hazards such as throw rugs, pets, stairs
  • Low blood pressure

How can therapy help reduce fall risks?

The first step to fall prevention is to identify a person’s particular risk factors. A physical or occupational therapist can help to identify risk factors such as loss of function, cognitive issues, and environmental hazards in the home or hazards caused by the use of assistive devices.

man doing physician Therapy

We use validated tools to assess risk for falls. Based on this evaluation, the therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan. Depending on the specific risk factor, this treatment plan may include:

  • Ambulation and stair-climbing training
  • Strengthening or range-of-motion exercises
  • Balance training on a range of surfaces
  • Postural control and core strengthening
  • Recommendations for walking with assistive devices or orthoses
  • Recommendations for home modifications to improve independence and safety
  • Use of computerized technology to improve vision and cognitive responses

The goal of our Fall Prevention Program is to help patients identify their risk factors and maintain or increase their independence. Dynamic strengthening exercises can help to reduce risk factors and improve a person’s mobility and safety in the home. Recommendations about the use of assistive technology or modifications to the home, work or community environments can also help to reduce risk factors and increase a person’s overall safety.

About the author: Leslie Ritter, MSPT, DPT has worked for Allied Services for 23 years. She was previously the Director of the Inpatient Rehab Units at RHS and Moses Taylor Hospital. Dr. Ritter specializes in treating neurological diagnoses including Spinal Cord Injury, Parkinson’s Disease, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis , Balance Impairment, and Gait Dysfunction . Dr. Ritter is LSVT BIG certified for Parkinson’s Disease and is trained on using the Indego Exoskeleton Robotic Walking System and the Zero- G Body Weight Supported Gait Training System. Dr. Ritter is a graduate of Misericordia University and Arcadia University.

Start your referral: the Fall Prevention Program is available at any of our 16 outpatient rehab centers. To find the rehab center that's right for you click here.