Research has shown that fall prevention in the elderly can be supported through the use of physical therapy.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for seniors over the age of 65, with statistics indicating that one in four Americans in this age group are affected every year.
Falls, which at the very least temporarily stop seniors from remaining as active as they need to be, result in over 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments every year.
Researchers are constantly seeking new methods of fall prevention in the elderly that can also extend both the lifespan and the quality of life of seniors.
In 2012, a team from the Duke-NUS Medical School began a study on 354 elderly patients. The study, called SAFE, sought to analyze the effectiveness of tailored physiotherapy programs (referred to as physical therapy in the U.S.) for fall prevention in the elderly. Its results were recently published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Study Results for Fall Prevention in the Elderly
The elderly subjects of the study were patients who had previously been to the emergency room for a fall-related injury. Of these patients, half were assigned to a structured physical therapy group, and the other received no treatment beyond the usual services. The patients were observed over a nine-month period.
Researchers found that physical therapy did not reduce the number of falls in the elderly, but it did reduce the severity of falls and slow down physical decline. It also reduced the likelihood of falls that required a visit to the emergency room or the doctor.
Another interesting finding was that the state of health of the patient influenced the success of physical therapy. Those who had no more than one serious medical condition, for instance, had a 70% reduced risk of falls.
Government Support for Fall Prevention In the Elderly
Researchers noted that their findings back a large body of research supporting physical therapy for the elderly. Governmental bodies can take meaningful action by backing physical therapy programs and by ensuring smooth communication between healthcare providers or emergency workers and community-based physical therapists so those who do suffer falls receive vital therapy. These actions can reduce the need for future hospital visits.
Individual Measures for Fall Prevention Among Seniors
Of course, these programs should be supported by good care and fall prevention for seniors at the individual level and at home as well.
For example, seniors may feel more confident and inclined to stay active - which would, in turn, help them keep their muscles and bones in good condition - if they did so while wearing a device that alerts emergency medical teams if a fall is detected.
Because seniors living alone or with another person above age 65 can be more vulnerable, many of these systems also provide home call services, in which staff regularly check up on a senior clients’ state of health. Devices can also be connected via apps to family and friends, which can help seniors feel more secure.
Physical Therapy and Other Healthcare Priorities for Seniors
Physical therapy, regular exercise, and a sound diet are all priorities when it comes to the health of our elderly, a population that is growing dramatically. As noted by the National Institutes of Health, 8.5% of the global population today is age 65 or over. That number is expected to rise to 17% by 2050.
We may be living longer, but it is important that we also enjoy a better quality of life. Preventing falls or lessening recovery time from falls through solutions like physical therapy and regular exercise, such as balance exercises, is just one step in helping us do so.