How Physical Therapists Can Help Elderly People with Fall Prevention
How Physical Therapists Can Help Elderly People with Fall Prevention
As people get older, falls and fear of falling would bring them nightmares. Falls are intimidating in that they often lead to injury and make it difficult to move and function normally.

As people get older, falls and fear of falling would bring them nightmares. Falls are intimidating in that they often lead to injury and make it difficult to move and function normally. They can reduce the ability to lead an independent life. If you are an elderly person who fears to fall, do not be discouraged as physical therapists who are the movement experts can help you keep your balance in shape. Most falls can be prevented by exercising your balance system regularly.

Below are some of the facts and statistics on falls

  • Falls are reported as the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide.

  • The World Health Organization’s global report on fall prevention reported that people aged 65 and above fall about 28%–35% each year.

  • Studies have reported that nontraumatic complication in falls has lead to fear of falling (FOF) in older adults.

What Are Falls?

A fall is an unintentional and unexpected event when some person loses his gravity and descends to the ground or lower level, that has not happened due to a push or the result of a health condition, such as a heart attack, stroke, or fainting.

Fall risks can increase due to a lot of reasons that include

  • Gait and balance disorders - Arthritis is the major cause of balance and gait disorders in older people that leads to falls.

  • Orthostatic hypotension leads to a decrease in blood pressure when standing

  • People with memory problems

  • Muscle Weakness

  • Home hazards like poor or dim lighting

  • Maintaining a sedentary lifestyle

  • Having problems with vision or touch sensation

  • Polypharmacy, the use of multiple medications is common among the elderly as age-related disorders require them to take an increased number of medications. Some studies state that when older people who take four or more medicines along with one fall risk-increasing drug on a daily basis have a high risk of falls.

How Physical Therapists Can Assess Falls?

Physical therapists may evaluate the person’s previous history of falls and his/her medical history. They may also review the medications the person takes and assess the risk factors.

Physical examination may be performed that includes balance and gait, neurological and cognitive function, lower limb strength, visual problems, feet, and footwear.

Physical Therapy for Falls and Fall Risks

Based on the assessment results, the physical therapist will design an individualized physical therapy treatment plan for the person that includes strength exercises, balance and endurance training, and proper education on the risks associated with falls.

1) Balance and Strength Training

The following exercises help to build strength and improve balance thereby reducing the risk of falling.

Sit-to-Stand Exercise

This is a basic exercise for those having fall risks. Practice this exercise to improve your strength. If you experience pain in your knees, back or hips, consult your physical therapist.

  • Start by setting on a chair of normal height and sit comfortably with your feet flat on the ground. 

  • Scoot forward so that you sit at the front of the seat. 

  • Have a table or any support surface in front of you so that it supports you when you feel unsteady.

  • Lean your chest forward and rise to a stable standing position slowly

  • Then sit back to the original position slowly.

Single-leg Stance Exercise

This exercise helps to improve the balance on each leg 

  • Hold on to the back of a chair with both hands.

  • Slowly lift one leg off the ground and maintain your balance as you stand on the other leg for 5 seconds.

  • Return to the original position and repeat this action 5 times

  • Gradually increase the time spent standing on one leg

  • Then perform the same action with the opposite leg

Heel Raises

This exercise helps in strengthening the calf and thigh muscles thereby improving balance.

  • Stand with the back of a chair in front of you.

  • Keep your feet eight inches apart, flat on the floor, and parallel to each other.

  • Bend your knees slightly.

  • Lift your heels to rise onto the balls of your feet, and reach out to the back of the chair for balance.

  • Return to the original position.

Heel-to-Toe Walk

This exercise helps to maintain balance while moving.

  • Place the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the other foot.

  • Decide a spot in front of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk.

  • Take a step by putting your heel in front of the toe of the other foot.

  • Continue for 20 steps total, then turn around and return.

2) Endurance Training

Fall prevention program comes with endurance training that can strengthen the muscles of patients who suffer from a loss in bone density and muscle mass due to age-related disorders. The exercises include walking, swimming and aqua aerobics, tai-chi. These exercises help to build muscle, fight muscle fatigue, restore muscle mass and increase flexibility.

3) Education and Consultation

Physical therapists educate on how to prevent further risks of falling so that the patient can perform functions normally that lead to an increase in the quality of life. The therapists will also explain how fear of falling will prevent them from performing activities and help the patient to build confidence and combat the fear of falling.

Final Thoughts

Falls and fear of falling become a common problem as people get older. One needs to consult the physical therapist as early as possible so that they can work on improving their strength and balance. Physical therapy eliminates the need for medication and reduces fall risks through better physical movements.