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 Improving Balance Prevents Falls

Most of us have experienced a loss of balance at one time or another. Sometimes we notice unsteadiness on uneven surfaces, after sitting for a while or during a cold. Imagine living with these sensations all the time. Physical Therapist Paul Hughes explains that some patients avoid leaving their homes because of their balance problems. The apprehension associated with falling begins a series of events resulting in diminished activity. Falls are the leading cause of accidents among people over age 75 and the second leading cause for ages 45-75 (National Safety Council) Because of falls, 50% of people over age 75 may require institutional care. As they do less, their physical condition deteriorates making them more susceptible to falls and potential loss of independence. Health Professionals are recognizing that falls are not a normal part of aging and many falls can be prevented.

The Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults uses a new piece of equipment for balance rehabilitation. The Biodex Balance System documents neuro-muscular postural ability on an unstable footplate surface. It measures the body's systems and motions involved.  Professional sports teams use this equipment on new recruits; for example, it can reveal that 1 star football player is fine on two legs, but when he balances his weight on one side, a serious unresolved knee problem may become evident. Well known for her business, The Carriage House, Jeanne Marks is an interior designer in Palm Beach. She underwent months of rehabilitation, but now demonstrates steady improvement in her balance, as documented on the Balance System. Recovering sport participants, such as triathletes and snow skiers, use this new balance equipment during the rehabilitation process.

Physical Therapist Assistant Rich Sylvester reports several staff members and guests have tried the equipment and were surprised that balance challenges muscles, vision, attention and strength. Participants use a computer screen for visual feedback and receive a printout recording their individual performance. The more conditioned the participant, the higher their score. Aging factors affecting balance may include a decline in physical strength, flexibility, range of motion, reflexes and coordination, walking speed or step length and/or cardiovascular fitness.  Complications that can make us less able to detect we might be slipping may include vision, inner ear and touch sensitivity. Medications and drug interaction may contribute to unsteadiness, so a physician should be informed of balance problems. Dr. John Whelton notes that patients with osteoarthritis are at greater risk because falls can easily break fragile bones. Medical Director Dr. Jacob Lochner explains that therapy may be needed for strength training, weight shift stabilization, movement reaction to equilibrium changes, proprioceptive awareness and postural stability. Physical and Occupational Therapists have the expertise to systematically use sensor motor training. Tips for fall prevention include using slip resistant floor coverings and contrasting colors to mark changes. Increase room lighting, relocate switches and utilize a nightlight to avoid walking through darkened areas. Install grab bars in bathrooms. Avoid climbing and reaching for high cabinets or shelves. Use canes or walkers as instructed. Remain physically active to avoid degeneration. Schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist to individually measure and manage balance needs and learn fall prevention skills for a healthy 2004!


January 2004

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