Reduce Your Risk of Falling with an Assistive Device
The elevated risk of falling is a major issue in the geriatric population. Falls often result in hospitalization, surgery, injuries to others, and in a worst case scenario, death. The CDC provides us with the following information:
- One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
- Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
- Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
- In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
- The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.
A common dilemma faced by older adults involves the decision to start using an assistive device such as a walker or a straight cane. This decision causes many people to struggle with issues of vanity, vulnerability, and public perception. We have commonly hear a a line of thinking which we believe is erroneous.
Many hold off on using an assistive device because they believe:
“If I start using a walker or cane, I will become dependent on it.”
Get Your Risk of Falling Assessed by a Physical Therapist
Do any of the following describe you?
- One or more falls in the past year
- Recent hospitalization or illness.
- Family and friends frequently share concerns about your balance.
- You note issues with balance such as stumbling, staggered walking, bumping into objects
- Furniture surfing – as you walk around your house, you reach and hold onto things, i.e. walls, chairs, sofas, etc.
- Holding on to your spouse while you walk. A sure recipe for 2 hospitalizations instead of just 1.
If any of these are true, you should consider meeting with a physical therapist to have a closer examination.
Physical therapists are trained to determine the level of fall risk for an individual. A typical physical therapy evaluation includes a review of your medical and social history, assessment of your strength and flexibility, performance of several neurological tests, and multiple balance tests. This comprehensive examination provides you with a complete picture of your abilities and helps the physical therapist come to a recommendation for your specific situation. If your physical therapist advises you to use a walker or cane, you need to use them. A program of physical therapy to address functional issues is strongly recommended. These programs address gait, strength and balance training. Improvement in these areas can help reduce the dependence on assistive devices and improve your balance.
Use a Walker, It’s Good for you
If you or your therapist has determined that you have an increased risk of falling, you will need to consider obtaining an assistive device for ambulation. There are many on the market from which to choose. Your typical walker provides a considerable amount of assistance with a reduction in the speed of moving around. There are walkers such as 3-wheeled walkers, rollators (4-wheeled walkers) and the Upwalker that provide light-moderate support but can move very quickly. You can find devices like these available locally at Homecare America and Jupiter Drugs and Medical Store.
Initially upon if starting to use an assistive device, it will not be 100% clear if this will be a permanent functional change. Using a walker or straight cane will give you the greatest opportunity to regain unassisted ambulation. Even if you don’t regain unaided ambulation, you will benefit by improving your physical and emotional health.
Physically you will improve because you will walk farther and more frequently.
- Burn more calories.
- Increased stamina and strength.
- Increased cardiovascular endurance
- Sitting activity is reduced offsetting many of the deleterious effects of inactivity.
- Emotionally you will improve as your life as your balance and health improve.
- Anxiety decreases as your risk of falling is reduced and also your fear of falling.
Emotionally you will feel better.
- Stress between you and family members is reduced as they feel more secure with your safety
- You gain more confidence in your ability to do things on your own.
- Using a walker often reduces pains in the spine or legs via load reduction, decreased compression on those joints.
- Reduction in hospitalization, surgery, and the need for frequent physician follow up appointments.
Walkers Don’t Necessarily Mean Slower
There are a number of walkers that give you the ability to walk with a faster speed. These are only recommended for clients that require light assistance during ambulation and after assessment by a medical professional, such as a physical therapist, to determine safety in using the device. Recently we had two patients that acquired a device called the Upwalker. In both cases, reduced pain was noted while walking, which enabled these clients to increase their walking distance and time.
Our therapists at Synergy Health and Wellness are available for balance assessment and training. We utilize myofascial release to improve flexibility, the AlterG treadmill to increase ambulation, and Pilates-based exercises to augment core strength and stamina. Please call us if you need a consultation.