Balance. It is something we take for granted when we are younger and even challenge it by running, jumping and participating in sporting activities. However, as we progress through our lifespan our balance may start to become impaired for various reasons, leading us to become less active, more dependent on others, fearful of falling and, worst of all, suffering serious injury due to a fall.
It is estimated one out of three individuals over the age of 65 will sustain a fall in the United States each year. A fall is defined as an event that results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level. Unfortunately many falls go unreported due to no one else witnessing the fall and the individual being embarrassed or unwilling to mention the occurrence to others, especially if there was not a significant injury.
Twenty to 30 percent of older individuals who fall will suffer moderate to severe injuries, which may lead to hospitalization, early entry into a nursing home or premature death.
There are multiple factors that may affect one's balance and ultimately lead to a fall. These include side effects of medications; inner ear disturbances, such as vertigo; poor vision; diabetic neuropathy; general deconditioning; poor posture; limited mobility; and muscle weakness. As one can see, finding the appropriate reason for one's impairment is critical in order to attempt to correct the problem.
The good news is the majority of the reasons for balance deficits listed above can be treated with physical therapy. Physical therapy can assist an individual with increasing their mobility, strength, posture and overall conditioning through safe and effective methods. Recently updated guidelines by the American Geriatric Society recommend physical therapy as part of a treatment plan in preventing falls by the elderly. Physical therapy also can be beneficial with inner ear disturbances, such as vertigo, with performance of the Epley Maneuver or other techniques. Just like performing exercises to strengthen your muscles, exercises can be performed to "strengthen your balance."
It is also a good idea to "fall-proof" your home since that is where the majority of falls occur. Information on how to do this also can be obtained from a physical therapist.
In summary, if you feel you have balance deficits or have fallen within the past year, make sure you let someone know, especially one of your medical providers. There are various forms of treatment, which can lead to improved balance, greater independence and a more active lifestyle without fear of falling.
In honor of National Physical Therapy Month, Barr & Associates Physical Therapy will be offering a free balance screening and seminar from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 13. Screening includes computerized testing on the Biodex Balance System with a printout of your results. Call 386-673-3535, for more information and to reserve a spot.
Jacob Barr, PT, DPT, MTC, CEAS, is a physical therapist with Barr & Associates Physical Therapy, 1425 Hand Ave, Suite H, Ormond Beach.