Balance and dizziness represent the number one reason for physician office visits in senior populations. In 2005, almost half of all accidental deaths in Riverside County residents over 65 were fall-related. At Fast Track Fitness and Physical Therapy, we are concerned with making improvements to these statistics. We know that high quality physical therapy is capable of greatly reducing and improving these numbers. We have programs and equipment designed to help improve your balance/dizziness. During your first visit to Fast Track, you will be given an extensive battery of balance tests. These tests will give your therapist objective scores that will allow him/her to advise you as to your risk for falls. These tests also serve to help the therapist design an individual program to help improve your balance. At the conclusion of the Fast Track Balance Program, almost 100% of patients will have seen an improvement in their balance scores and, more importantly, a reduction in their risk for falls.
But Aren’t Falls Simply a Part of Getting Older?
Absolutely not! There are numerous factors, circumstances, and characteristics that can be controlled by every individual in order to reduce the possibility of a fall.
Risk Factors for Falls
- Medication – many medications can cause dizziness, and weakness. Please consult with your physician or pharmacist to find out if the medications you are taking put you at higher risk for falls.
- Impaired Vision – Vision is one of the three major senses that you utilize to help maintain your balance. When you are unable to see well, your chances for falls are greater.
- Sedentary Lifestyle – “Use it or lose it”. A sedentary lifestyle will lead to decreased muscular strength and impaired balance. You will quickly lose abilities that are not continually practiced. If you are not engaged in activities that require balance, your balance will suffer and your likelihood for falls is increased.
- Fear – Many people, as they age, become fearful of falling. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Due to their fear of falling, people tend to engage in less physical activity which leads to weakness and impaired balance. Consequently, this triggers a fall.
- Environment – it is important to remove all hazards around the home. Some suggestions to make your home safer would include:
1. Remove electrical and phone cords from walking areas.
2. Remove clutter from the floor such as newspapers, boxes, etc.
3. Remove coffee tables from living spaces. All living spaces should
have furniture only at the perimeter of the room.
4. Utilize non-slip surfaces in tubs and showers.
5. Store dishes, clothes, etc. in easy to reach places.
Avoid placing items on high and low shelves.
6. Remove throw rugs from the house.
7. Repair uneven flooring or carpet.
8. Immediately clean any spills from the floor. Keep the floor dry.
9. Keep the house well lit at all times. Never walk at night without a
Major Balance Centers
There are three major centers in your body that work to maintain your balance. Below you will find an outline of the centers and how they work.
- Somatosensory System – The somatosensory system is essentially the system that provides your brain with information as to where your body is in space. For example, when you lean forward and your weight shifts onto the balls of your feet, your brain receives sensory information telling it that pressure has been increased on the front of the foot and decreased on the back of the foot. Your brain also receives information from muscles on the back of your body. Muscles on the back of the body are being stretched by your forward position. The brain then utilizes this sensory information to make the appropriate adjustments to ensure that you do not fall forward. This is the system that the body relies most heavily on for balance information. When you lack sensation, especially in the lower extremities, your odds for falls and balance difficulties are greatly increased.
- Vision – Vision is the body’s second choice for information when making balance decisions. Vision lets us know when we’re moving towards or away from an object. The brain then utilizes this information to make corrective adjustments to keep us upright. When you look straight down at your feet, or when you’re walking without good lighting, you’re greatly reducing the ability of your brain to utilize your vision to assist you in balance activities.
- Vestibular System – The vestibular system is located in your inner ear. Inside the ear, there are three circular canals that are filled with fluid. When you move your head, the fluid inside the canals flows and causes signals to be sent to your brain alerting the brain as to what direction the body is moving. This is your brain’s third choice for balance information. It does, however, become highly important when you’re walking at night (vision is unable to assist properly), and on uneven/unstable surfaces, such as thick carpet (where you are not able to get much information from your somatosensory system).
Each of the above systems is highly important for maintaining your body in good balance. When any one system is impaired or nonfunctional, the other systems must compensate. In order to maximize your balance and reduce your risk for falls, it is important to maximize the function of all three systems.
How Can I Avoid Falling?
- Visit your physician – ask your physician to analyze the medications you’re taking to find out if any of them are possibly impairing your balance and placing you at risk for falls.
- Sensible shoes – Make sure that your shoes support your feet, fit well, and are appropriate. High heeled shoes and shoes with limited grip soles greatly increase your chances of falling.
- Home hazards – make sure that you remove all hazards around your home; both inside and outside.
- Start exercising – if you are not currently engaged in an exercise program or some type of physical activity, you need to start now. Increasing your strength and challenging your balance will greatly reduce your risk for having an accident.
Where Can I Find Help?
At Fast Track Fitness and Physical Therapy, we specialize in falls prevention. We administer multiple, objective tests that will give you numeric scores that will indicate your risk for falls. Our testing also allows us to find your areas of weakness (somatosensory, vision, or vestibular) so that we can improve those areas or teach you strategies to compensate. We have excellent results achieving improved balance for our patients.
Do not wait until you start falling to take action. It only takes one fall to lead to disaster. Make an appointment today!
- Research: All older seniors should be evaluated annually for falls and strategies should be implemented to reduce falls risk in this population. (Clinical Intervention for Aging, 2009)
- Research: Exercise can reduce falls, fall related fractures and several risk factors for falls in individuals with low bone mineral density. (Osteoporosis International, 2009)
- Click here for more research