Physical therapist warns of issues that can affect balance
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Nov. 30, 2012
Nearly one-third of people over 65 will fall this year, according to physical therapist Lise Van Saun from Gentiva Home Health Care, during the first of a three-part series on balance at the Glastonbury Senior Center, on Nov. 28. Van Saun said that most older people fall at home, as opposed to out in the community. “Very often it's in the bathroom, or rushing to get the telephone and tripping over the throw rug,” she said.
Ramifications of just one fall can become more complex and severe, Van Saun said, adding that a “negative cycle” can occur after a person has an injury due to a fall.
She used the example of a person who is raking leaves and a foot hits a divot. They then realize that their arthritis is acting up, and they struggle to get up, eventually needing help. That person will likely wake up the next day feeling sore, and then fear of the same activity will set in. Daily walks become shorter, activity levels become less, and depression can set in.
“If we can prevent that initial fall from occurring, and keep our activity level up and our bodies healthy, the better off we'll be,” she said.
Balance, she said, is affected by many things, and can be improved upon, once the cause of impediment is identified. The four balance “controllers” are the inner ear and vestibular system, the musculo-skeletal system, eyesight and the somatosensory system – which is the nerve endings in soft tissue.
“We get feedback from the soles of our feet, and from our joints,” Van Saun said.
Risk factors that increase falls include taking four or more prescriptions, and Van Saun said one should check with a pharmacist or physician to see if any of the medications can cause dizziness, including when interacting with one another.
Neuropathy is another risk factor for falls. Usually occurring in people with diabetes, neuropathy includes a loss of sensation in the soles of the feet. Often, the wearing of thin-soled shoes can help a person feel the ground better.
Visual impairments, including simple cataracts, are obvious fall risk factors, but so is depression, because a person can lose their ability to focus and may not be thinking clearly. “You also might not have the motivation to keep your activity level up,” Van Saun said.
Tips for decreasing the risk of a fall include using night lights, keeping things in reach (such as telephones), wearing sensible footwear, and replacing low-to-the-ground furniture with furniture that is more easily accessible.
Van Saun said the healthcare system is looking closely at fall prevention, because of the large costs associated with care of people after falling – the average of which is a surprising $20,000. It's estimated that by the year 2020, the cost of falls will reach $43 billion.
The three-part series will continue on Dec. 5, and a date to be determined in January. For more information, visit the Glastonbury Senior Center page at www.glastonbury-ct.gov.