Dizziness & Balance

Fall Prevention

Today’s society is more active than ever, but inevitably every year more than two million Americans fall and sustain serious injury, costing the healthcare system in excess of $3 billion dollars. Hidden costs affecting the individual include pain, disability, lawsuits, loss of independence, deterioration in well-being, and the impact on other family members. Nonetheless, falls are predictable and preventable, even for older adults.

Falls and the resulting injuries are among the most serious health issues affecting the elderly population. The increased risk for falls in the elderly can be attributed, in general, to the body’s deterioration due to inactivity and a slow deterioration of the central nervous system (CNS). For example, the sensory cells in the ears’ balance system gradually decrease in number and cannot be replaced. The nerves that carry sensory information to the brain lose fiber and nerve cells, leading to problems with the function of complex brain interconnections. In addition, nerve endings lose their ability to produce the chemicals responsible for the transmission of information. This process accelerates after age 50.

With the aging process we see loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility, blood flow issues and fluctuations in blood pressure, and worsening vision and hearing.  If you have diabetes, there are additional problems with your eyes, ears, and sensation in your feet.  Strokes can cause a variety of issues depending on which part of the brain is damaged.  Together these can lead to many reasons why falling not only happens more but also results in more serious injury.

Head injuries, especially those associated with concussion, can damage the sense organs in the inner ears, or the brain itself. Therefore, it is very important to be properly evaluated for what type of activity is best and safest for recovery. The general debility of aging can negatively affect recovery if it results in a decreased level of activity. Often, injuries to the knees, hips, and back do not completely heal, leaving some limitation of motion.

Another reason we often see more falls is due to what we call “polypharmacy”; this means that many older individuals, especially those with multiple doctors, are taking lengthy lists of medications that may interact or overact to cause problems.  It is extremely important to make certain that one doctor is overseeing all of your medications.  A pharmacist can help with this as well by using a single pharmacy or pharmacy system.

Regaining function is the major goal following a fall.  A complete evaluation should be aimed at your sense of balance, mobility, sensation, and cognition and through processing.  At Blue Water Ear Nose & Throat with Balance by FYZICAL, we employ a team approach to assisting you to full function.  This will include a full history and physical exam.  An individualized plan for needed testing and treatment will be developed by our audiologist and physical therapist. We will address all correctable issues or refer you for problems like vision issues that we are unable to manage.

Rehabilitation includes increasing the range of motion, as well as physical strength. A very important part of rehabilitation is overcoming the fear of falling, thus avoiding further injury. Walkers and canes can aid stability, while simple changes in the home, such as installing hand-holds in bathrooms or along walls, could decrease the likelihood of falling and increase confidence. But keep in mind, drastically changing a familiar environment often hampers recovery. As soon as possible, rehabilitation should include family members and home support groups. Rapid return to physical activity and social interaction with family and community can often stop the vicious spiral into inactivity, reclusiveness, and progressive deterioration that falls and injuries cause.

Tips to prevent falls among seniors:

  • Have hearing and vision check-ups regularly. If hearing and vision are impaired, important cues that help maintain balance can be lost. Having some light at night is extremely important because we greatly depend on our vision to maintain our balance.  Do not try to move around in the dark.
  • Get up slowly. A momentary drop in blood pressure can cause dizziness when standing up too quickly.
  • Use a cane or walker to help maintain balance on uneven ground or slippery surfaces. Wear sturdy, low-heeled shoes with wide, nonslip soles.
  • Exercise to improve your strength, muscle tone, and coordination. Walking is a good form of exercise.
  • Remove raised doorway thresholds in all rooms. Rearrange furniture to keep electrical cords and furniture out of walking paths. Fasten area rugs to the floor with tape or tacks.
  • Never stand on a chair. Use nonskid floor wax and wipe up spills immediately.
  • Be sure stairways have sturdy hand rails.
  • Install grab handles and nonskid mats inside and outside your shower and tub.
  • Use shower chairs and bath benches to minimize the risk of falling.