One out of three senior citizens fall each year. Thirty percent of seniors is a big number! Think of your neighbors on each side of your home, both the left and the right. This means that one of the three of you will fall this year.
There are many factors that can influence your balance. Some people I see in my physical therapy practice know exactly why they fall. They may realize they get dizzy or that their legs give out causing a fall. But others are truly baffled. You can be as strong as an ox and still fall. I’ve seen in many times.
Someone will walk into my clinic with their arms spread wide and staggering their steps. Form the outside, they look like they are probably weak. When I test their strength they can easily push through my resistance! But yet… they fall.
Others will walk in looking “normal.” They may even still be working a part time job or regularly taking care of their yard. They can bend and touch their toes. Yet, they fall.
Many people ask me “Sara, why do I fall?” There are many different reasons that people fall.
By popular demand, I have listed below the Top 7 Reasons Senior Citizens Fall:
- Our vision may decrease as we age. Not seeing clearly can cause falls.
- Our hips and legs can become weaker making it harder to walk and lift our feet.
- We can develop poor posture making it harder to stand up straight.
- It takes longer to react when something is in our way causing us to fall.
- Many medications interact with each other causing dizziness or decreased balance.
- Vertigo or dizziness. Vertigo or dizziness is a large component of falls. I like to say, “If you are dizzy and don’t know which way the floor is, you’re sure to end up on it!.” What most people do not realize is many times vertigo or dizziness is fixable. And it can be done with simple exercises. Medicine for dizziness does not “treat” your issue; it merely treats the symptoms.
- Pain. Pain can prevent you from moving your legs or trunk like you need to. If you lose your balance, pain may not allow you to move far enough, or fast enough, to catch yourself. Pain can also cause your legs or back to “give way.” Often this giving way can cause a fall. Pain, especially if it is chronic pain, needs to be viewed as an unsafe issue that may put you at risk for falls. This is especially true if the pain is in your lower back, legs or feet.
Some balance issues can change from day to day. One day your balance is fine; the next you are falling. Others have a more gradual onset. This can make it harder to realize that your balance is slowly worsening. Keep this list and refer to it periodically so you can perform self-checks on your balance.
Common signs that your balance is worsening:
- You have fallen before. If you have fallen recently in the past, you are at a very high risk to fall again.
- You have what I call “almost falls.” This means you were losing your balance but were able to catch yourself on something or someone. We tend to breath a sigh of relief after these instances and then forget all about them. Don’t make this mistake. Take this as the sign that it is: your balance is not where it needs to be.
- You have started to use your cane or walker more frequently. Or you feel like you put more pressure on your cane/walker than you used to. (Although this is a warning sign, I compliment you on using the cane or walker when you feel you need it. Great job!)
- You spread your arms and/or legs out wide when you walk. It’s easier to balance when we spread our arms or legs out wide. Think of the tight-rope walkers at the circus. They use those long poles to help them balance. In the same fashion, your body has decided to spread itself out wide to be more stable.
- You tend to hold onto furniture or walls when you walk.
- You can hear yourself walk. You notice that you drag one of your feet when you walk. You may also notice you “slam” one foot down harder when stepping on that side.
- Your loved ones mention that you “walk funny.”
Do you or a loved one have any of these signs that your balance is worsening? The one good thing about falls is, most of the time they can be prevented! By being aware of these signs that your balance is worsening, you can be pro-active in fixing it. If you feel that your balance is not where it needs to be, a Balance Evaluation by a Balance Physical Therapist is the best first step.
In a balance evaluation, we will test all the points listed above. That way we can see exactly what part, or parts, of your balance needs improvement. Once we discover what aspects of your balance need improvement, your Balance PT will then make an exercise program for you to address each specific issue of your balance that was found. That way we can get you strong and healthy, which will prevent falls. In fact, preventing balance issues is so important that your health insurance will pay for you to fix your balance and prevent falls! Even better, you do not need an order or referral from your doctor to start.
There are many things that affect your balance. A physical therapist who specializes in balance will be able to fully assess you and your entire health situation.
For more information, you can obtain a free copy of my book Heal Your Balance, Live Your Life! or attend one of my FREE Balance and Vertigo Workshops, held each month, contact Total Body Therapy & Wellness at 901-893-2850 for details!