Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults aged 65 years and older in the U.S. Yet, despite ongoing fall prevention awareness, fall injury rates among the older adult population have been steadily increasing, according to a recent Medicare study. In fact, senior falls increased 1.5% annually during the study period, causing 106,000 new injuries and equating to about $1 billion in Medicare spending.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the aging population in terms of decreasing activity levels, causing seniors to be much more sedentary. During that time, many also opted for telehealth physical therapy services in place of in-clinic care and, unfortunately, we are still seeing post-COVID fall risk patients today,” said Kimberly Smith, PT, DPT, VRT, Illinois Regional Coordinator for Athletico’s Vestibular and Concussion Program. “Physical therapists are movement experts and have the training and tools that are proven to help in prevention of falls. By starting with physical therapy, we can ensure you or your loved ones receive the care needed to detect and prevent falls before they happen.”

During Falls Prevention Awareness Month in September, Athletico Physical Therapy is encouraging senior adults and caregivers to be proactive by recognizing fall risk factors early on and understanding methods for prevention. Senior falls can lead to nonfatal severe injuries, such as head injuries and hip fractures, or soft tissue injuries to the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Falls can also be emotionally traumatic to some, causing people to avoid participating in daily activities due to the fear of falling.

Physical therapists routinely treat patients with injuries related to falls and can be the first line of defense against them. Athletico is sharing tips to ensure fall risk detection and prevention are a priority:

1.    Recognize fall risk factors that can and cannot be managed by a healthcare provider:

    • Demographics, specifically age, cannot be changed and put older adults in the highest risk category for falls. By the age of 80, over half the population will experience a fall annually.
    • Proper management of chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart conditions, low vision, and hearing loss may reduce one’s fall risk.
    • Additionally, muscle weakness, poor flexibility, poor posture and poor balance are all major risk factors that can be improved over time with balance, strength and flexibility training.

2.    Consider seeing a physical therapist first for fall prevention:

    • A fall evaluation done by a physical therapist is a great place to start to help identify specific risk factors. Your therapist may recommend physical therapy in combination with an exercise program and other safety recommendations.
    • Balance and strength training are commonly recommended and have significant benefits to improving overall balance and decreasing the risk of falls.
    • For those 65 and older, consider scheduling an annual fall evaluation to review your fall history and medication, and assess your physical and functional health.

3.    Focus on preventing falls before they happen by taking proactive safety measures at home:

    • Create a clear path throughout the home by removing items from the floor that could be tripping hazards, like rugs, toys, decorations and cords.
    • Ensure your home is well-lit by using night lights or reflective tape to help increase visibility of potentially unseen objects, stairs, and doorframes to prevent accidental falls.
    • Keep bathrooms dry and well-lit, and minimize use of floor mats. Also, consider installing grab bars, shower chairs, or tub benches for extra support.

“Many physical therapists are also caregivers to their family members and friends, and we understand just how detrimental a fall can be for a family,” added Smith. “Physical therapy is an effective, low-risk way to evaluate risk and prevent falls, and our goal is help people live the best quality of life for as long as they can.”

[Source(s): Athletico Physical Therapy, PR Newswire]