Falls a largely preventable health problem

Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls. Falls can result in moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can even increase the risk of early death.

In 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized. By 2020, the annual direct and indirect cost of fall injuries is expected to reach $54.9 billion.

Many people who fall, even if they do not sustain an injury, develop a fear of falling. This may cause them to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness. This can increase their risk of falling. Fortunately, falls are a public health problem that is largely preventable.

Balance is controlled by three systems: visual, vestibular and proprioceptive. A decline in any one of these systems can adversely affect balance. Age-related declines can include, but are not limited to: visual deficits, muscle weakness, decreased flexibility, dizziness, cardiovascular impairment, medication side effects and poor postural control.

These declines can be attributed to aging, but leading an active lifestyle can reduce the effects. Age-associated changes may be subtle and difficult to detect. Often, these changes are not observed until an actual fall occurs. Poor balance can be prevented and/or improved. It is not an inevitable consequence of aging.

Older adults can take steps to protect their independence and reduce their chances of falling. One of the most important steps is regular exercise. Exercise should focus on increasing your leg strength and improving balance. A physical therapist can help you reduce your fall risk and establish an appropriate home program.

Riverview Rehabilitation provides physical therapy for fall prevention at three convenient area locations: Riverview Rehabilitation Center in Wisconsin Rapids, Riverview Family Clinic Nekoosa and Riverview Family Clinic Lakes in the town of Rome. Riverview physical therapists evaluate our clients’ balance, gait, strength, flexibility and posture, and then develop an individualized plan of care. Screening for predisposing factors and establishing an individualized preventive balance training program can reduce the likelihood of falling.

Riverview’s physical therapy staff will host a free Balance & Falls workshop from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 13 at Riverview Rehabilitation Center, 1041 Hill St. We encourage you to attend and learn how to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling. The workshop will consist of a presentation by Riverview’s physical therapy staff and individualized balance testing, including our Biodex Balance System Machine. Advance registration for the workshop is appreciated, but walk-in participants also are welcome.

To register for the workshop, call Riverview Rehabilitation Center at 715-424-8500.

Kim Scheunemann is an outpatient physical therapist for Riverview Hospital.