APTA Sponsors National Toll-Free Hotline Addressing Ways to Improve Balance and Reduce Risk of Falls
ALEXANDRIA, VA, January 14, 2008 — Falls are prevalent,
dangerous, and costly. About one in three seniors above age 65, and
nearly one in two seniors over age 80, will fall at least once this
year, many times with disastrous consequences.* As our nation's
population ages, the rate of falls is rising. Yet, falling and fear of
falling may be reduced by physical therapist intervention, says the
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
Physical therapists will answer questions about the risk factors of
falling, how the body maintains its balance, and how older adults can
help to improve their balance and reduce the risk of falling during a
toll-free national hotline on Friday, February 8, from 9:00 am until
5:00 pm, EST. The hotline is offered as a public service of the
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and is not a substitute for
a visit to a physical therapist or other health care professional.
The toll-free number is 1-877-NEED-A-PT (633-3278).
"Falling and fear of falling among seniors is a public health problem
and should not be accepted simply as a normal condition of aging," says
physical therapist Leslie Allison, PT, PhD, assistant professor in the
Department of Physical Therapy, College of Health Sciences, at East
Carolina University in Greenville, NC.
Allison notes that there are several risk factors associated with
falls, including: being older; being female; impairment of balance or
walking; poor vision; leg or trunk weakness; reduced cognitive status
(dementia); pre-existing medical conditions, such as Parkinson disease,
stroke, or diabetes; being on more than four medications simultaneously;
use of an assistive walking device; and a past history of falls.
Maintaining physical activity as one ages is one of the most critical
things that seniors can do to help prevent falls, observes Roberta
Newton, PT, PhD, a professor at Temple University's Department of
Physical Therapy. "Fifty percent of older adults think that if they
decrease their physical activity level, they will have less chance of
falling. But, in reality, the exact opposite is true," says Newton. Many
of her patients view exercise as a chore more than as pleasure, so
Newton often recommends activities such as gardening, line dancing, and
yoga to help improve balance and movement. "We see significant
improvement not only in patients' balance, but also with their
confidence levels, an awareness of body alignment, and a reduced fear of
falling," she says.
"Physical therapists play an important role in screening patients for
potential balance problems," notes Susan Whitney, PT, PhD, NCS, ATC, of
the University of Pittsburgh. "Once a physical therapist has thoroughly
examined a patient and has a comprehensive medical history in hand, he
or she will design an individualized program of exercises and activities
with an emphasis on strength, flexibility, and proper gait." If
necessary, the physical therapist will refer the patient to other
medical professionals, such as an ophthalmologist or neurologist.
Physical therapists Marilyn Moffat, PT, PhD, professor of physical
therapy at New York University, and Carole Lewis, PT, PhD, GCS,
professor in the department of geriatrics at George Washington
University, authors of Age-Defying Fitness, say that you have to train
your balance in the same way you have to train your muscles for strength
and your heart for aerobic capacity.
According to Moffat and Lewis, balance may be improved with exercises
that strengthen the ankle, knee, and hip muscles and with exercises that
improve the function of the vestibular (balance) system. Moffat and
Lewis suggest starting with a simple assessment of your current ability
to maintain good balance. With a counter or sturdy furniture near enough
to steady you if necessary, perform this test:
1. Stand straight, wearing flat, closed shoes, with your arms folded
across your chest. Raise one leg, bending the knee about 45 degrees,
start a stopwatch, and close your eyes.
2. Remain on one leg, stopping the watch immediately if you uncross
your arms, tilt sideways more than 45 degrees, move the leg you are
standing on, or touch the raised leg to the floor.
3. Repeat this test with the other leg.
4. Compare your performance to the norms for various ages: 20 to 49
years old (24 to 28 seconds); 50 to 59 years (21 seconds); 60 to 69
years (10 seconds); 70 to 79 years (4 seconds); 80 and older (most
cannot do this test).
To improve balance and reduce falls risk, physical therapists may
recommend stability and strengthening exercises; a formal exercise
program; a walking regimen that includes balance components such as
changes in surfaces/terrains, distance, and elevations; Tai Chi (which
emphasizes balance, weight shifting, coordination, and postural
training); and aquatics classes geared toward balance and
Physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and
manage individuals of all ages who have medical problems or other
health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform
functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists examine
each individual and develop a plan of care using treatment techniques to
promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent
disability. Physical therapists also work with individuals to prevent
the loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented
programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.
The American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org) is a
national organization representing almost 72,000 physical therapists,
physical therapist assistants, and students nationwide. Its goal is to
foster advancements in physical therapist education, practice, and
research. Consumers can access "Find a PT" to find a physical therapist
in their area, as well as physical therapy news and information at www.apta.org/consumer.
* National Council on Aging