Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Most of the time we think of a fall as no big deal. You fall, get back up and continue on with your day… Unfortunately this is not the case for people over the age of 65. According to Statistics Canada, each year 1 in 3 seniors are likely to fall and the consequences of these falls can be significant. Falling can be the start to a downward gloomy cycle, resulting in hospitalizations, fractures, chronic pain and even risk of death. This unfavorable cycle is commonly seen in clinical practice.
Let’s look at an example. Mr. Smith, a 75 year old man, trips over his carpet because he isn’t taking big enough steps. He falls and is sent to the hospital. It turns out Mr. Smith fractured his hip and could require surgery. While waiting for, and recovering from, treatment at the hospital, Mr. Smith spends most of his time in bed. This bed rest leads to significant muscle loss and deconditioning. By the time Mr. Smith is finally discharged from the hospital, he requires a wheelchair for longer distances because he has become so weak from being in bed for so long. This decreased independence can lead to further weakening and decreased mobility which perpetuates the cycle. This is a more serious case, however this sort of situation occurs more often than not. This example is meant to demonstrate how preventing Mr. Smith’s fall in the first place could have been very helpful.
Identifying those at higher risk of falling helps target prevention techniques to those who need it most. Previous falls, fear of falling, advanced age, muscle weakness, chronic conditions (arthritis, Parksinon's, dementia etc), gait and balance problems are some of the very relevant risk factors found in the literature. I would like to highlight that fear of falling is a risk factor in itself. Those who fear falling are more likely to fall, so the goal of this post is definitely not to make you afraid, the objective is to inform you that there are things you can do to help prevent a fall and avoid the negative consequences.
So what can you do? Strengthening exercises, mobility drills, functional training, motor control and coordination, and most importantly balance training are all pillars of a fall prevention program. With training comes the added bonus of confidence, confidence dissolves fear, and in return this decreases the chances of an accidental fall.
Physiotherapists are qualified to identify and assess for specific risk factors for falls, and then use this information to develop a personalized care plan to suit each individual’s needs. If you have questions or know someone that could benefit from a fall prevention program, please do not hesitate to contact me.