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10. Prevent Falls

Prevent Falls 

Baker County is predominantly a geriatric community, which means an increased incidence of fall-related injuries.  There are a few concerning facts about falls:

*90% of broken hips are related to falls, and only half of the individuals will return to their previous level of function

* 1 in 10 falls result in a broken bone

*16% of emergency room visits and 7% of hospitalizations are related to falls

As the number of health problems an individual develops increases the incidence of falls rises rapidly.  For example 8 people in 10 will fall with 4 or more common health related problems.  Examples of common health problems are: taking 4 or more medications, foot disorders, trip hazards in the home, drop in blood pressure causing dizziness with standing, and walking disorders.

There are three strategies the body presents with to avoid falling.  These are the ankle, hip, and stepping strategies.  As a person trips the first strategy that is incorporated is the ankle strategy.  This strategy is a rocking motion of the ankle to attempt to correct the imbalance.  If this strategy fails the hip strategy is initiated, which consists of bending forward at the hip.  And finally, the stepping strategy, if the other two fail the person attempts to step out to catch them.  As a person ages the ability to correct falls in each strategy lessens.  Primarily, the ankles do not provide the range of motion or strength to stop the progression of a fall. 

There is one simple exercise to perform at home, which can dramatically reduce your chances of falling by improving your strategies.  One exercise is to stand in the corner with a chair in front of you and rock heel to toe.  Challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone; you have the walls and chair to prevent a fall.  Keep your head up and move only at the ankles, not the hips or low back.  As people age they sometimes forget to use their ankles to prevent falls, and rarely move back on their heels. 

A physical therapist can utilize a variety of balance tests to determine the cause of falling or the risk of falling.  These tests are used to determine a person’s static and dynamic balance, and will give the person a balance score.  This score can be used to determine the success of a fall prevention exercise program.  Additionally, an occupational therapist can perform a home safety evaluation to determine other risk factors in the home. 

Written by Blake Marlia, DPT

Published June 2011

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