Physical therapy is too often seen as a “last chance” to help prevent further falls, especially for older patients who have already had a few close calls. Yet physical therapists do so much more than guide patients through helpful balance-enhancing movements — as crucial as those are. These professionals, can also be counted on to help patients assess their lifestyles in order to remove as many fall risks as possible.
Medical Checkups are Crucial
Seniors should never skip annual eye exams, because changes may have happened gradually that they didn’t notice, but which are affecting their perception of light, distance and depth. Entirely new lenses may be in order, or patients may find that they prefer to have an extra pair of glasses — one for reading, and one for more active pursuits.
Blood tests and other lab work ordered during regular physician appointments can also be revealing. For example, Vitamin D deficiency can have a negative impact on muscle strength and function. As you’re likely aware, many seniors need to take supplemental D because their ability to absorb the nutrient decreases with age.
Lab tests, as well as discussion with general practitioners and specialists, may also reveal that current medications, are making patients fatigued or dizzy. A physical therapist can often also do a review of their client’s current medications, and point out any that have been associated with fall risks, or which interact with OTC meds.
Evaluating the Home
This is another area in which a physical therapist is invaluable. Whether with a professional or on their own with family members, a thorough assessment of an elderly person’s home environment helps eliminate any danger zones. Proper lighting is crucial, as is furniture placement. More efficient storage systems prevent a pile-up of newspapers, pet food bowls, coats and other household items that people tend to trip over.
In addition, extra support may be needed in certain “danger zones.” Adding an extra railing to a staircase so that seniors have one on either side is helpful, as is having grab bars installed in the bathroom, or other tricky household areas.
Assessing Current Balance and Strength
At a client’s first physical therapy appointment, he or she is assessed for current mobility status, including balance, range of motion, muscle strength and gait. A physical therapist can then design a program that improves all of these areas — but which specifically focuses on coping with the elderly person’s specific fall risks, whether it’s an inner ear condition or a weak leg.