According to the CDC, more than 25% of adults over the age of 5 fall each year. It’s no wonder that most people believe falling is a natural (although scary) part of aging. Yet research shows not everyone becomes unsteady as they get older. Some people maintain excellent balance well into their nineties. Why do some people fall while others don’t? Is there a way to tell if you are at risk for falling and prevent it?
Why Do People Fall?
We fall when our bodies can’t react fast enough to a balance challenge. To understand why, it’s important to first review the three basic components our brains use to make sense of where we are in space: vision, sensation through our joints (called proprioception), and an “inner sense of balance” (called the vestibular system). These three balance components normally work together to send information to our brains about how steady we are, how fast we are moving, and obstacles in our paths. Based on these inputs, the brain communicates to the body to determine how we should respond — whether it’s taking a step to steady ourselves, throwing our arms out to grab for support, or simply swaying a bit and catching our balance again. As we age, certain parts of our balance system might not function as well as they used to. Some people develop visual impairments like cataracts, sensory deficits from conditions like peripheral neuropathy, or vestibular conditions like vertigo. When the brain isn’t getting all the pieces of information it needs to make sense of where our bodies are in space, it can’t send the right signals to stimulate balance reactions and prevent falls.
Balance Testing in Physical Therapy
At Hands On Physical Therapy a Physical Therapist can check your balance by using standardized tests to assess how fast you walk, how well you get up from a chair, how you navigate obstacles, and how you respond to distractions. Although these seem like simple activities, these tests can detect early changes in a person’s balance abilities. By identifying changes early, people can lower their fall risk through a program of Physical Therapy exercises to improve balance. Each person has different factors that play a role in their balance — orthopedic issues, sensation issues, vision issues or vestibular issues — so each person needs an individualized set of balance exercise. There is no “one size fits all” approach to balance. As time goes on, and new health issues appear, a person’s ability to respond to balance challenges might change. For this reason, the American Geriatrics Society recommends annual balance screenings for all adults over the age of 65. With the standardized tests used by a Physical Therapist, it is easy to compare how your balance has changed from one year to the next, just like you would with blood work taken at your annual physical.
If you are interested in learning more about your balance Hands On Physical Therapy offers a balance screening clinic for adults and youth – call us or click HERE to receive more information!
Stay tuned for more information to come regarding additional aspects of balance assessment and retraining with a Physical Therapist at Hands On Physical Therapy, Bend, OR.