Balance and Fall Risks for the Elderly

By: David Arend- PT, DPT
Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists- West Clinic

As we make our way through the winter months, we battle the uncertainty of outdoor conditions including snow, ice, and rain. These conditions present a challenge to our daily routine, and can increase our risk of falling due to slippery conditions. Previous research has shown that 50% of falls among older individuals occur outside. Nearly 30% of older adults fall once per year, and about 25% of those falls result in injury. Thus, falling represents a significant event that can negatively affect our health.

The older individual does have several health factors that can lead to an increased risk for falls. First and foremost, the older individual has less muscle mass. This is a result of sarcopenia as we age. Sarcopenia is a condition that is characterized by a loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. In addition to loss of muscle mass, the older individual has decreased joint proprioception. This is the body’s ability to detect where one’s body and joints are in space. Older individuals also have changes in other physiological systems such as vision, vestibular, and/or auditory. Combined with individual health conditions and factors, it is imperative that the older individual take steps to avoid falls in the winter. Below are some important steps to take to stay safe this winter:

Footwear and clothing. Proper footwear with good traction is important when you are walking on slippery roads, sidewalks, and pathways. Clothing should fit properly, be warm, and preferably not affect your ability to walk normally.

Common sense. If you are uncertain whether it is safe to travel out on the roads or pathways, err on the side of caution. It is not worth putting your safety or health at risk.

Communication. Let friends or loved ones know if you are heading out of your home in bad weather. Bring a cell phone in order to contact someone if you need help.

Shovel and salt walkways. This will not only help you remain safe, but allow visitors to safely enter your home.

Don’t rush. Many times accidents happen when we are in a hurry. Plan ahead if you can to allow yourself more time to travel safely.

Stay active. Maintaining a regular level of activity and exercise will enable your body to maintain a higher level of strength and balance. This will better prepare you if and when unexpected icy and slippery conditions arise.

David is a Physical Therapist at our West Clinic in Jackson and can be reached at davidpt@orsmi.com