We tend to associate Fall with pumpkin picking, leaves changing colors, and brisk breezes reminding us of impending Wisconsin Winter months. We rarely associate the season with injuries and disability related to falling at home or in the community. This year, National Fall Prevention Awareness Day lands on September 23rd which happens to also be the first day of our Fall season. It is a great opportunity for me to share thoughts on the topic I know so well as a Physical Therapist who treats patients recovering from, or at risk for, fall related injuries.
Falls are a very scary thing to think about, but are a very real concern for the aging population. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of Americans over the age of 65 fall each year. Injuries from falls generated over 30 billion dollars in medical costs in 2013. As most people age, fall risk increases due to a combination of changes in body systems including strength, flexibility, endurance and coordination. Fear of falling prevents many individuals from being active which leads to further deconditioning and balance loss.
You might be thinking, “I can still do all of my everyday activities, so I must not be having any balance problems or be at risk for falling.” Before you start thinking along those lines, ask yourself the following questions:
Have you noticed you are no longer able to stand on one leg or upright while putting on your pants, socks and shoes? Have you started depending on your arms to get up and out of a chair? Do you have trouble picking up items from the floor? When you stand in line at the post office or grocery store, do you have to spread your feet very far apart to keep your balance? Are you extra careful or in need of assistance when walking on uneven surfaces? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be at increased risk for falling.
Consulting with a Physical Therapist will help you determine if you are at risk, and what should be done. Physical Therapy has been proven to lower fall risk and improve daily function. During a thorough evaluation, your therapist will determine the main areas putting you at risk. They will tailor a therapy program to address your individual needs including exercises and home programming, aiming to make everyday function such as dressing, personal cares, home and community activities easier.
As leaves begin to change colors and fall this season, please take proper steps to ensure you or your loved ones are not the next to fall!