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Fear of Falling Can Restrict Your Life. These Strategies Can Help

If you’ve fallen and hurt yourself, or if your balance isn’t as solid as it used to be, you may be afraid to do some of the activities you used to enjoy. But you don’t have to let poor balance or a lack of confidence in your footing control your life. You can take steps to reduce your odds of a dangerous fall.

One option to consider is fall prevention therapy. With it, a physical therapist assesses your balance and prescribes a strengthening and balance program designed just for you.

Julie Barnett, a physical therapist with Banner Physical Therapy in Chandler, AZ, explains that fall prevention therapy incorporates:

  • Evaluation of your risk factors for falling
  • Learning how to move safely
  • Setting up your home to reduce your risk of falls
  • Designing and following an individualized exercise program to make falls less likely

Who could benefit from fall prevention therapy?

“Anyone who has challenges with balance or mobility would benefit from fall prevention therapy,” Barnett said. You might be a candidate if you have or have had:

  • Orthopedic injuries
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Problems with your balance
  • Low vision
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Loss of sensation in your feet
  • Generalized weakness

Fall prevention therapy may also be recommended if you take more than four medications or if you have fallen or almost fallen in the last six months.

“A lot of people feel it is normal to have poor balance as they age or believe they can’t improve their balance after a certain age. This is not true. We can improve strength and balance at any age,” Barnett said.

What happens in fall prevention therapy?

When you start fall prevention therapy, a physical therapist will perform an evaluation. That might include:

  • Testing the muscle strength in your ankles, knees and hips
  • Testing your balance on level and unlevel surfaces with your eyes open and closed
  • Assessing your gait
  • Testing your vestibular system, which controls your balance
  • Evaluating your activity level and discussing any activities you would like to return to
  • Answering questions about your medical history, medications, previous falls, home environment and assistive devices

With this information, your physical therapist will develop a personalized program that includes sessions in the clinic and exercises you can perform at home. Building your strength and balance can also help improve your confidence.

“If you have fallen or almost fallen, that could affect your confidence in your balance. Research has shown that improved confidence in your balance also improves your balance. Fall prevention therapy can help you regain your confidence so you can return to the things you love to do,” Barnett said.

What else can you do to reduce your risk of falls?

Setting up your home so you are less likely to fall is crucial. Barnett recommends that you:

  • Add nightlights in hallways and bathrooms.
  • Remove irregular items that are in your path, such as small pieces of furniture, magazine racks, rugs and plant stands to avoid tripping.
  • Regularly check for unstable furniture.
  • Place emergency numbers close to your phone.

And have someone help you:

  • Remove clutter from walkways.
  • Secure or remove loose rugs.
  • Paint the ends of steps to improve visibility.
  • Remove or rearrange furniture to create more open space.
  • Add and use assistive devices like grab bars around the toilet and in the shower, tread in the bathtub to avoid slipping and handrails on stairways. Canes and walkers can be helpful for walking and balance.

Additional tips:

  • Schedule regular exams with your primary care physician, as well as specialists such as an ophthalmologist. In addition to balance, vision, hearing, pain and many other age-related conditions can contribute to falling. Address your concerns with your doctor and ask about other potential solutions such as an assessment by a specialist or medication.
  • When standing, rise up slowly.
  • Wear sturdy, flat shoes that fit properly and securely.
  • Exercise daily, Balance and strengthening exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, are important to your overall bone and muscle health.
  • Consider vitamins, supplements and medications. Talk to your health care provider about ways to help avoid or treat osteoporosis, such as starting a vitamin D and calcium supplement regimen. By strengthening your bones, you'll reduce your risk of a fracture if you do fall. Also, be aware that many medications can cause dizziness. Keep a current list of all your medications and share this with your primary care physician.

The bottom line

Fear of falling can make you afraid to do activities you used to enjoy. But you can take steps to stay safe and fall prevention therapy could help. To connect with a fall prevention expert, reach out to Banner Health.

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Content in this article was updated on January 18, 2023

Senior Health Wellness Physical Therapy