Physiotherapy for falls prevention

It is a common misconception that as we age, it is normal to experience falls which can result in injury, unplanned hospital admissions and loss of confidence. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 3 Australian’s over the age of 65 have had a fall in the past 12 months. But what constitutes a fall? A fall, by definition, is an “unexpected event in which the participant comes to rest on the ground, floor or lower level”. Physiotherapists are trained in preventing falls and also recognising near misses. These near misses include events such as slips and trips where individuals lose their balance but don’t fall and land on the ground.
But why are elderly people at higher risk of falls? There are many factors that contribute to people experiencing falls. Some of these include:
Reduced muscle strength
Reduced balance
Lack of physical activity
Slower reaction times
Household hazards including rugs, steps, cables, and unsafe footwear.
Medical conditions, for example, low blood pressure, incontinence, and diabetes. 

Unfortunately, experiencing a fall often means the individual loses their confidence and then has a fear of falling when walking, both in and out of the home. This loss of confidence results in less physical activity and an increased risk of having a fall.

So, how can physiotherapy help?
At your initial session, your physiotherapist will complete a thorough assessment to determine the cause of your falls. They will ask you questions regarding your walking, your home environment, previous falls and your activity levels.  It is often the case that elderly people experience several things which may increase their falls risk. While your physiotherapist can help with many aspects, some areas are more suited to being managed by your doctor. Your physiotherapist may refer you to your doctor to discuss certain contributing factors including eyesight, medication reviews and management of other medical conditions.
Once your assessment has been completed, your physiotherapist will work with you to create an individually tailored treatment plan to help reduce and prevent falls. Your treatment plan may include:
Exercises to improve balance, coordination and strength. Exercise programs for elderly people experiencing falls have been shown to reduce falls risk by as much as 35%.
Education regarding strategies to prevent falls in the home. Some examples include: removing trip hazards and wearing appropriate footwear.
The use of walking aids if needed (this is very individualised and should be discussed with your physiotherapist for appropriate prescription)

Your physiotherapist might also suggest you see an exercise physiologist to complete a supervised exercise program to help improve your global body strength and balance. Completing a supervised program also helps improve patients’ confidence in completing exercises at home.
Both physiotherapists and exercise physiologists are highly trained in recognising, reducing and preventing falls in the elderly population. If you have concerns regarding your falls or confidence when walking, or if you have a family member that struggles with falls, please contact our reception team on 4613 1394 to book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists or exercise physiologists.
If you would like more information while waiting for an appointment, below are some useful videos and websites with tips and tricks on how to reduce falls.
Georgia Cloudsley
Physiotherapist at Up & Active Physiotherapy