Balance and falls

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of non-fatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults in America.

It is estimated that one out of three adults over the age of 65 lose balance and falls each year and less than half of those talk to their healthcare provider about it! Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of non-fatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults in America. Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually and more than 27,000 deaths.  In 2013, the total cost of fall injuries in the United States was $34 billion and is expected to reach $67.7 billion by the year 2020.

Unfortunately, many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, which leads to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness and, in turn, increases their actual risk of falling.

A tendency to fall and symptoms of dizziness should not be dismissed as unavoidable consequences of aging.   There are four main systems that affect our balance and, while all of these systems can be affected by the aging process, there are things individuals can do to minimize the decline of these.   

Vision is one thing that affects our balance and falls . There are age-related changes that can occur with aging including cataracts, glaucoma, floaters, drooping eyelids and macular degeneration.  Getting regular eye exams by a professional is the best way to make sure you are minimizing these impacts on your overall eye health.

As we age, blood flow to the inner ear decreases and the number of nerve cells in the vestibular system decrease.

In addition, there are disease processes that can affect the vestibular system, including stroke, BPPV, Meniere’s disease, and vestibular neuritis.

Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense movement within the joints and the position of the joint in space.  This occurs by messages being sent from receptors in joints to the brain.  Some things that can affect these receptors as we age are diabetes, which can cause peripheral neuropathy, decreased flexibility and arthritis.

Lastly, muscle strength and flexibility can largely affect balance and falls. The weaker the muscles in the legs and core are, the more at risk for falls you may be. The Center for Disease Control recommends older adults get 30 minutes, at least 5 days per week, consisting of aerobic activity, resistance training, stretching and balance exercises.

Also, dizziness or feelings of unsteadiness are possible prescription medication side effects or drug interactions. Many prescription medications can cause dizziness, drowsiness and even weakness. Be sure to check with your physician if you have noticed a change in balance or dizziness, especially if there has recently been a change in medications.

If you have questions about the best exercise prescription for your specific needs, asking your physician for a referral to a physical therapist would be a great way to go.

Article Provided by:
PT Northwest

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