Falls can diminish your ability to lead an active and independent life. There usually are several reasons for a fall. Physical therapists can help you reduce your risk of falling by balance retraining, improving mobility and walking, strength training, aerobic training, education, building confidence with daily activities, reducing the fear of falling, and setting up community programs in the local area that help with balance.
One quick way to assess your balance is to ask yourself a few questions: • Have I fallen before? • Am I over the age of 65? • Do my legs and arms feel weaker? • Has my vision changed recently? • Have I started taking new medication that makes me feel dizzy? • Have I become increasingly depressed and less active? • Do I rely on a walker or cane a lot more recently? Based on the evaluation results, your physical therapist will design an exercise and training program to improve your balance and strength. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, a recent systematic review of many published studies found that exercise-based programs in the home or in group settings are effective in preventing falls. These programs are especially effective when balance exercises are performed in a standing position without using much arm support (June, 2011). Physical Therapy focuses on a controlled environment designed to encourage yet challenge the patient while reproducing activities of daily living. The patient is guarded by the therapist 100% of the time to prevent any loss of balance. The therapist will review your medical history and evaluate your current situation and balance using specific tests and measurements. The therapist may also rule out other contributing factors to poor balance such as home set-up, vision changes, blood pressure or heart rate issues, and shoe wear assessment. The brain has the amazing ability to learn and relearn tasks and the only way to improve one’s balance and prevent falling is to challenge the balance. Results will vary depending on the patient and the diagnosis, however patients will see improvement within the first 4-8 weeks. Because maintaining good balance only happens with repetition, practice makes perfect. Before attempting any home exercises regarding balance, speak with your physician if you can answer “yes” to the above questions and wish to have your balance evaluated.