Improving Balance, Checking Vision Can Help Decrease Risk
Unintentional falls are often a big worry for people over the age of 65, with statistics from the Centers for Disease Control showing that 1 in 4 fall each year. While every fall does not result in an injury, 1 in 5 does cause a serious injury to the head or a broken bone. Falls are also the leading cause of injury deaths among seniors.
But, Sandy Rice, a physical therapist assistant at ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca, said people can take a variety of steps to decrease their fall risk. “Falls are a big concern since many worry they may break a hip or another bone and wind up in the hospital,” she said, adding that 95 percent of all hip fractures are caused by falls. “When you fall, it raises your risk of falling again.”
Rice said while many people associate falls with icy weather conditions, the most common place people fall is in their bathrooms at night. “Not having enough light is a big cause of falls, which is why it’s important to have lights on so you can see where you are going,” she said. “Adding grab bars in the bathroom is also a help.”
People can take several steps to lessen their chances of falling, Rice said, including:
- Get your vision checked: Poor vision, including not having enough light, is a top reason for falls since people cannot see where they are going or if there is anything on the ground they could trip over.
- Get exercise: Any activity that improves balance can help prevent falls. “A lot of older people are afraid of falling and they change their walking patterns or gait,” Rice said. “They start to shuffle their feet, which actually makes you less steady.”
- Get a med check: Some medications can cause dizziness and Rice recommended people tell their doctors if they’re experiencing any unsteadiness. She said physicians can check for other medication options that do not have dizziness as a side effect.
- Clean up house hazards: Rice said the majority of falls occurs at home and some simple changes can have a big difference. She suggested getting rid of throw rugs, clutter on the floor and keeping items at a good height so there’s no need to climb on a step stool. In the bathrooms, adding grab bars around the toilet and shower and using non-slip bath mats are important.
Most people over age 65 do not realize their balance may be shaky and ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca provides free balance screenings by appointment so people can have theirs tested. Rice said the screens include a couple of standardized tests to determine how the person compares to what the average is for his or her age. To schedule a free screening, please call 715.258.1053. Free screenings are also available at annual senior health fairs in Waupaca and Iola.
“If your balance is not where it should be, a physical therapist can perform an evaluation and develop a plan to improve those areas that need a little extra help,” she said.
Stepping On is a seven-week program intended to build confidence and reduce falls in older adults. The class is offered twice a year and focuses on what people can do to reduce their risk of falling. “Different professionals come in to talk about various topics. We have an optometrist come in to talk about how vision changes as you age and how important it is to have it checked and the role that poor vision plays in falls,” Rice said. “A pharmacist also comes in to talk about medication side effects, such as dizziness, and what can be done.”
A physical therapist also teaches different exercises to help improve strength and balance, she said.
The next free Stepping On class begins at 9 a.m. on Wed., Oct. 5. The two-hour class is held in the Maasch Room at ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca.
Patients can register for the Stepping On Class online at at www.thedacare.org or call ThedaCare On Call™ at 920.830.6877 or 800.236.2236 weekdays, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service. The ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton opened in February. For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.