Physical therapy for seniors is a valuable weapon in the battle against falls, but you are right if you think it is an overlooked option that can benefit your loved one. According to the CDC, about 36 million seniors fall every year, resulting in injuries, hip fractures, and even death. With Fall Prevention Day falling on September 29, your question comes when we should be paying attention to just how serious falls can be.
The truth is that caregivers, medical providers, and seniors could all do a better job with fall prevention. Let’s look at some of the causes of these millions of falls and how physical therapy for seniors can help.
Why Do Falls Occur?
Often, the risk of falling is not just one factor but a combination of issues that snowball into a serious hazard. Some of the blame lies on your loved one’s environment; clutter on the floors, poor lighting, the wrong shoes, and slippery floors can all contribute.
A senior’s health is also a culprit. Certain health conditions, such as peripheral neuropathy, vision problems, and positional low blood pressure may make your loved one more prone to stumbles. Certain medications may also play a role, especially if they cause dizziness or sleepiness.
Another piece of the puzzle is the aging process itself. As your loved one gets older, he or she may lose muscle strength, range of motion, balance, and flexibility, the main physical aspects that keep people upright. Interestingly enough, these four physical components are the same ones that physical therapy for seniors may target.
What Can Physical Therapy Do?
Physical therapy is so effective for older people because it is a personalized approach to improving strength and mobility. When your loved one has an evaluation, the physical therapist considers any injuries, physical limitations, medical history, and chronic conditions when developing a treatment plan. Your loved one’s gait speed may also indicate an increased risk of falling, so a physical therapist also looks at how fast your senior walks when assessing mobility.
A physical therapist can also identify appropriate goals for your loved one. If your senior requires an assistive device, for example, he or she may not be able to balance on one foot. In that case, the physical therapist may focus on standing from a seated position to improve that capability.
Physical therapists can also teach your loved one what to do if they do take a spill, which, honestly, we all need to know. These are the basic steps, but of course, your senior’s therapist may customize a method that works before for your loved one:
- Be still for a moment to stay calm, get over the shock of the fall, and assess any pain.
- If your loved one thinks he or she can get up, roll to one side before sitting up.
- Get on hands and knees and crawl to a stable chair.
- Using the chair to pull up, set one foot flat on the ground.
- Keeping the other knee bent, try to lift up enough to sit in the chair.
- If your loved one is hurt or unable to pull up, he or she should try to get in a comfortable position and call you, a caregiver, or 911 for help.
Physical therapists can teach seniors these techniques while working on range of motion, flexibility, balance, and strength.
Because falls do not have just one cause, fall prevention should not have just one path. A holistic prevention plan that includes physical therapy for seniors may work better for your loved one. Contacting your senior’s physician is an appropriate avenue for obtaining a referral to a physical therapist. Be sure to ask about any local services specializing in geriatric physical therapy that may be a smart option for your loved one.
Best of luck!