Falls in the elderly are not normal and should not be accepted as a fact of life. This week, I had a patient who was 90 years old and told me that he was doing pretty well until this last year. In the last 12 months he has fallen 6 times! These falls have happened at home and in the community. Because he is on blood thinners, falls for him are even more dangerous because of the risk of internal bleeding. I am glad he found me, but sad that it took so long to find help. It turns out that he is a retired pediatrician, and his son is an orthopedic surgeon, but neither of them thought of going to physical therapy. I hope that the patient let his primary care doctor know he was falling, but this was not the source of the referral. The person who suggested physical therapy was his audiologist, who thankfully was looking at the big picture when talking with the patient and not just focused on his or her own particular specialty.
You may be wondering, what do we know about falls in the elderly? Here are 3 simple facts from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention website.
1. One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year, but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it.
2. Among older adults (those 65 or older), falls are the leading cause of injury death.
3. In 2009, about 20,400 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries.
Now that you know the facts, you could be the person who helps save an elderly person from serious injury or death. If you see an elderly person with bruises on their arms, legs, or face, ask them how did it happen? If you see an elderly person who is walking and touching the walls or furniture for support, ask them if they are falling or having a balance problem. If you see an elderly person who is struggling to rise from a chair, ask them if they are having a balance problem or falling.
If the answer is yes, let the person know that a physical therapist who specializes in treating balance problems could change his or her life. Finding a local vestibular balance specialist is as easy as going to the Vestibular Disorders Association website, and searching under the tab entitled “Finding Help and Support”.
Included image: Fallen Figure, painting by Jean Helion, 1939