Falling is not a normal part of aging. It is often just an accident, but can have very serious consequences. Older adults who fall are more likely to suffer a serious injury, and are at risk for losing their independence. The good news is that there are things we can do to prevent falls.
One of the best ways to prevent falls is to stay active. Often people who are afraid of falling tend to stay home where they feel safe. However, people who are more active have better reactions to help them keep their balance. Think of your body as a machine – you want to keep the parts well-oiled and moving. Parts that don’t move seize up and get rusty.
Our outpatient Rehab department offers a Fall Prevention Clinic, designed to help assess your unique balance needs. People attending the falls clinic are seen by three different disciplines to assess all risk factors related to falling:
- An Occupational Therapist (OT) will assess your cognition and vision, as well as offer home safety tips;
- A Registered Nurse will assess your general health and review medications, to make sure there are no adverse effects that might lead to falls;
- A Physical Therapist (PT) will assess balance, strength and mobility. A physical therapist can help design a comprehensive exercise program that includes:
- Exercises to build your muscles – Unfortunately, we lose muscle mass as we age. The good news is that resistive, or strengthening, exercise can help reverse that.
- Challenges to your balance – Your joints, tendons and nerves need a workout to keep them responding to changes in the world around you. Safely practicing harder balance activities helps keep your balance systems fine-tuned.
If you are interested in assessing your fall risk and determining what might be done to lower that risk, your doctor can refer you to the Fall Prevention Clinic or to your local therapy clinic. You can call the Fall Prevention Clinic directly at (802) 847-1902 to schedule an appointment.
This September, Falls Free Vermont is hosting Stay Steady Fall Prevention Screenings. At this screening, a physical therapist will have you sit, stand, and walk a short distance. The therapist will then tell you if you are at risk for falls based on your score on the activities. You will be told if you should seek additional help. These screenings will be held at 35 sites across Vermont throughout September. They are free and open to the public. We hope to see you there!
For more information about Stay Steady Fall Prevention Screenings or local exercise programs, please call the Senior Helpline at 1-800-642-5119, or check out the UVM Center on Aging website for a complete list.
Cathy Shearer, PT, is a physical therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.