Falls and Fracture Prevention
Adults ages 65 and older are at the greatest risk of falling, with one-third of older adults in the United States expected to fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But all too often, a senior will receive a physical therapy referral only once she has suffered a fall and sustained related injuries. Natural age-related changes can cause a decrease in flexibility and muscle strength in all seniors. This, in
turn, can make them more likely to avoid movement — which puts them at an even greater risk of falling. To combat these changes and the risk they induce, physical therapy should be a necessary component of a falls prevention intervention program for any senior with posture-related neck, back, or hip pain.
“Some of the elderly are not as mobile as they used to be,” says Kevin Huber, MS, PT, and physical therapist based in Connecticut. “And the worst thing they can do is stop moving. That causes a wasting of bone, which leads to osteopenia or osteoporosis and gives them a greater risk of [suffering a] fracture if they do fall.”
Physical therapy has been proven to improve postural control and lower limb strength in senior women with osteoporosis, effectively lessening their risk of fracture. One study, published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, found that physical therapy was able to greatly improve the quality of life of osteoporosis patients, in part because it reduced the physical restrictions on their lives. The specific exercises provided by a physical therapist won’t just help build muscle and improve balance in seniors with osteopenia and osteoporosis; they will also help build bone mass or decrease the rate of bone loss that accompanies these conditions. While medications are often needed to effectively treat osteoporosis once it is diagnosed, physical therapy is an important adjunct therapy because it may safeguard seniors from life-threatening injuries.
John Wilbert, MSPT, and physical therapist at Recovery PT in New York City, explains that when bones are stressed appropriately — when they are challenged by more than the usual weight — bone cells are encouraged to produce more bone. Two types of exercise are critical for bone health: weight-bearing and resistance exercise. A physical therapist helps seniors engage in these types of exercises while avoiding movements that may contribute to fractures. “A physical therapist’s job is to help seniors lose bone at a retarded rate,” says Wilbert. “To do this, you need to walk up and down stairs or engage in strength training, and for many seniors these exercises aren’t safe unless they are guided.”
Ironically, the fear of falling increases fall risk because it leads to muscle atrophy, loss of conditioning, and poor balance; working with a physical therapist can assuage that fear and help prevent physical decline. (Read more about the fear of falling in older adults.) If and when a senior does fall in her home, a medical alert system ensure she gets prompt help, so consider suggesting one to your older patients who are at high risk or who have previously suffered a fall.
Posted from Philips Lifeline