PTs and PTAs have long understood the role physical therapy can play in reducing the risk of falls, and APTA offers important resources to help strengthen that role.
Many of those resources are available on the association's Balance and Falls webpage, and include a clinical summary on fall risk in community-dwelling older adults, links to recent APTA research reviews such as this one on fall-related TBI death, a handout on research supporting physical therapy's role in falls prevention, and connections to online courses in management of falls, home health interventions for falls, and vestibular physical therapy.
The evidence base for falls prevention doesn’t stop there, however. Research on falls continues to hammer home the idea that falls prevention isn't just a possibility: it's a crucial response to a growing public health issue. In recognition of National Falls Prevention Awareness Week taking place Sept. 21-25, here's a roundup of some of the latest research on the topic.
Falls Are a "Major Issue" for Middle-Aged Women. A study of 273 women between 41 and 62 revealed that during a one-year period, 115 of the women sustained a total of 209 falls, with a one-year incidence of 42% for any fall, 17% for two or more falls, and 24% for injurious falls. Authors describe middle-aged women as a group "that has been largely ignored in the prevention of falls" and recommend that they be a target for falls prevention efforts. The study appeared in Osteoporosis International.
Lack of Physical Activity is a Risk Factor for Falls. This July, a 2020 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2018, more than one in four (27.5%) adults 65 and older reported a fall in the past year, with 10.2% of those falls resulting in an injury. That percentage is down slightly from 2016, but what remains constant is the link between lack of physical activity and higher risk for falls. "These risk factors are modifiable," writes the CDC, "suggesting that regardless of age, many falls might be prevented."
The Seemingly Stable Overall Rate of Fatal Injuries Masks a Significant Increase of Death From Falls. An analysis published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that while fatal injury incidence remained relatively stable between 2004 and 2017, the rate of death from falls increased by 35%, while the rate of nonfall fatal injuries dropped by 17%. Authors write that the increases "underscore the urgency of national implementation of fall prevention programs and expanding fall prevention efforts to more general injury prevention."
Home-Based Exercise Programs Can Reduce Falls. Researchers tracked 344 older adults who received a home-based strength and balance retraining exercise program and found a significant reduction in the rate of subsequent falls compared with participants who received "usual geriatric care" — 1.4 falls per person-year, compared with 2.1 falls in the "usual care" group. The study was first published in JAMA.
Exercise for Falls Prevention Works in Nursing Homes, Too. The Journal of the American Medical Directors Association published a study that analyzed data from more than 30,000 nursing home residents and found that exercise alone reduced the number of fallers by 36% and the number of recurrent fallers by 41%. Authors call for more research on falls prevention strategies for individuals with cognitive impairment and dementia.
Prevention Measures in the ED Can Reduce Later Falls. For this study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, two urban academic emergency departments were tracked for 21 months while they took different approaches to treating falls-related admissions: one took a "usual care" approach, while the second added a falls prevention consultation with a physical therapist. Patients who received the PT consultation were half as likely to experience a subsequent ED visit and one-third as likely to visit the ED for a fall-related injury within six months.
Additional resources for consumers, and for PTs to share with their patients, are available on ChoosePT Health Center on Falls.