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Physical therapy can help prevent falls in elderly population

By Jerry Moczerniuk PT, DPT
db Orthopedic Physical Therapy

Falls have, for years, been a leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older adults in the United States. One in four Americans 65 years and older falls every year. Falls are a major cause of disability and death in older adults. Falls may also result in high economic and personal costs.

A recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report suggests the rate of death from falls in adults over 65, particularly 85 and over, has increased by 31 percent from 2007-16. During that period of time, fall-related deaths in the older adults have increased from 18,334 to nearly 30,000.

Authors suggested a possible link between increased fall-related death rates and increased survivability in older adults after conditions such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Regardless of the causes, the report strongly recommends increased widespread fall screening and fall prevention efforts in order to combat the problem. Some of the suggested strategies include “asking about fall occurrences, assessing gait and balance, reviewing medications, and prescribing interventions such as strength and balance exercises or physical therapy”.

Over the years, many medical studies have shown strong effectiveness of physical therapy interventions in treatment of balance dysfunction and therefore decreasing the risk for falls. Exercise programs may target strength, balance, flexibility or endurance. Programs that contain two or more of these components reduce rate of falls and number of people falling.

A skilled physical therapist is capable of accurately diagnosing balance dysfunction and risk for falls by a comprehensive evaluation including history taking, physical examination, as well as functional/balance tests. Once a comprehensive evaluation is completed, an appropriate plan of care can be established.

Physical therapy treatment should be patient-specific and based on needs established during initial evaluation. Most often it will consist of a combination of balance activities, functional training, strengthening and stabilization exercises, as well as environmental awareness/modification training with the patient. There is consistent evidence in research that exercise and individually tailored interventions are effective in reducing falls in community-dwelling older adults.

Dr. Jerry Moczerniuk is a doctor of physical therapy, member of the American Physical Therapy Association, and a clinical director at db Orthopedic Physical Therapy of Manalapan LLC, located at 120 Craig Road, Suite 2, Manalapan. He can be reached at 732-462-2162 or Jerry@dborthopt.com, or visit dborthopt.com.

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