First, I would like to say that I am so sorry you fell. And, I am so sorry that you broke bones. As I read your column in the February 25th edition of the Ponte Vedra Recorder (Volume 46, No. 8), your first one after a several week hiatus during your recovery, I felt compelled to reach out to you with a message. I am a physical therapist, board certified in the rehabilitation care of older adults. I spend quite a bit of my time with older adults who have problems with walking and balance. I want to pass along some very important information to you and to anyone else who has experienced a fall.
Falls are not an inevitable part of the aging process. Let me reiterate that. It is not a normal consequence of aging to fall. Falls are not a normal occurrence (unless you are an infant learning to walk.) It is true however, that one’s risk of falling increases with increasing age. It is true that an older adult over the age of 65 has a 33% chance of falling just because he or she is at least 65. It is true that an older adult over the age of 85 has a 50% chance of falling just because he or she is at least 85. It is true that the chance of falling a second or third time after a first fall is greater. But, it is also true that most falls are preventable.
There is a myriad of factors responsible for falls that older adults experience. Some are truly accidental, but many have causes that can be identified. Most falls are caused by multiple factors which makes it quite a challenge to really pinpoint why a fall may have occurred. Think back to your falls. You may have racked your brain over and over trying to remember what actually happened. Did I catch my toe? Was there a rug? Was there a glare on the floor? Was there an imperfection in the floor surface? In truth, while some falls are caused by environmental things (rugs, lighting, a child’s toy, a pet), many are caused by internal factors inherent to us (decreasing leg strength, decreasing sensation in the feet, changes in vision, changes in hearing, and changes in the vestibular system or inner ear to name a few). The trick is to identify these factors that may increase the risk of a fall before the fall and its consequences.
Physical therapists have an educational background that makes us experts in human movement. Therefore, we have the knowledge and the tools to perform a comprehensive fall risk assessment and to provide education and intervention based on the results. Visit your physical therapist today for this important assessment so that you can be aware of any fall risk factors specific to you and so that you can implement a plan to prevent falls. It is never too late to do this.
Even if you have already fallen once or even twice, you can prevent future ones by arming yourself with the right information to get the preventative care that you need. For some, this may be a formal plan with a physical therapist over the course of 8-12 weeks. For others, this may mean implementing a specific exercise program to improve strength and balance.
This could also mean tweaking a current exercise program to target specific areas based on the fall risk factors identified that are specific to you and your needs.
If you don’t have a physical therapist, ask your doctor to refer you to one. There is also a feature on the Florida Physical Therapy Association website (www.fpta.org) where you can find a physical therapist in your area. Click on the “Public Info” tab at the bottom of the home page. This will take you to an area where you can click on the “Find a Therapist” link which will search a national database for physical therapists in your area. Medicare covers a preventative visit with your doctor to obtain a referral to a physical therapist. Medicare also covers the plan of care with the physical therapist for fall assessment and intervention.
One last thing, not all falls result in broken bones. So a fall that results in a fracture could be a sign of poor bone health. If you have not followed up with your doctor about your bone health, there is no time like the present!
Board Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist
Ponte Vedra, Jacksonville