Prevent Falls by Improving Balance
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Published on July 05, 2019

lower view of elderly woman falling in bathroom

Prevent Falls by Improving Balance

When falls happen to older folks, especially those who face osteoporosis, the results can be devastating. Improved balance can stop those falls before they happen – and reduce the threat of orthopedic injuries.

“Injuries from falls are among the most common problems older people face,” said Craig Magee, PT, a physical therapist at Avera Therapy Mitchell – Kimball Street. “Many of these incidents happen because our sense of balance deteriorates as we age. But it can be improved.”

Rebuilding Key Skills

When older people face osteoporosis and its damaging effects on bone strength, it’s important for them to get stronger and focus on building their balance so they can be more stable on their feet.

“Patients who are looking to improve balance can begin with a therapist and continue to work on it at home. It’s a comprehensive approach,” he said. “We will start with a balance test and assess their movement mechanics. Every time patients exercise, they are working toward a safer sense of balance.”

Magee works with people to see how they sit and stand, as well as walk, and how they brace themselves.

“At-home exercises help build strength and help reduce risks. We talk about diet and nutrition as well, with a focus on bone-strengthening foods and fitness.”

Safe at Home Movement

Not every home environment is the same and not every house has the safety features it needs. Therapists may visit a patient’s home to look for trouble spots, including stairs or tripping hazards.

“Adding rails that help with bracing or other at-home improvements can make the surroundings safer and easier for people,” Magee said.

Small changes can lead to vast improvements in safety and fewer falls. Magee often hosts patients for “review sessions” to track progress and build toward improvement.

“Movement stability as well as the comfort level of patients begins with walking on regular dry floors,” he said. “We then talk about their confidence walking on other surfaces that offer less traction. Patients should work with a therapist on stairs, grass or slippery surfaces, not so much in practice, but in discussion. We can then judge their initial confidence and compare it to later levels as they continue sessions with therapy and the at-home exercises.”

Collaboration Among Experts

Magee said patients who may be at higher risk of falls, and fall injuries, can talk to their doctor about how a balance-improvement program might help them. Working in collaboration with a therapy team can ensure safety is priority.

“In almost every case, regardless of where the person begins, we can see functional abilities improve,” Magee said. “Patients 65 and older who might have conditions that affect balance should talk to their providers about balance improvement exercises. For people who have osteoporosis or pre-osteoporosis conditions like osteopenia, these exercises could be a possible solution to an existing problem.”

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