From a baby’s very first months, they strive to stand up, find their center of balance, and move about on their own without fear. Of course no infant experiences the transition to toddler without his or her share of falls; it’s inevitable. But babies are built for such exercises in trial and error, equipped with layers of cushioning fat, a more cartilaginous skeleton, and a much shorter distance to fall.
Adults are not so well protected. As we age, a fall can become far more serious and injurious. Preventing a fall, therefore, becomes more important; and the key of prevention is, as it always has been, with improving one’s balance.
MANY CAUSES—ONE EFFECT
Unintentional falls are a serious issue, particularly among the senior community. Every 11 seconds a senior is admitted to the emergency department as a direct result of an unintentional fall. Such falls can cause severe bruising, bone fractures, concussions, and even death.
Very rarely is there a single cause for many of the maladies that befall us and losing your sense of balance is no different. Many physical factors can contribute to a lack of balance, according to Physical Therapy Assistant Bethany Wagenbach. “Factors can include decreased strength, numbness/poor sensation, abnormal posture/gait, vestibular weakness or vestibular loss, and lack of or poor vision,” she outlines.
As the body’s system of balance and spatial orientation—the vestibular system—can be affected by myriad issues, FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers in Peoria looks at the entire body when determining a patient’s personal causes.
“The frameworks that are used to test and subsequently treat each patient are what makes FYZICAL’s approach to vestibular therapy different than others,” Bethany explains. “Each patient performs specific tests and their strengths and deficits are determined. Based on these results, each patient is progressed through ‘conditions’ depending on their individual abilities and goals. Any sort of balance therapy can be effective, but having a cohesive plan backed by research for the patient is the most efficient and most effective.”
“FYZICAL has specific progression set up for each patient depending on the results of their balance test,” she continues. “The patient is progressed through this as tolerated and given specific exercises based on their personal needs.”
TO TEST OR NOT TO TEST
Of course getting one’s balance checked does not necessarily need to meet with the same frequency as a dental check-up or even an eye exam. Bethany says there are some indicators that it may be time to consider paying a visit to FYZICAL Therapy, however. “A person should consider getting their balance checked if they have a fall, a fear of falling, or notice that daily activities have become harder to perform in terms of balance. Balance issues are good for seniors to be aware of.”
Should someone wish to have their balance tested, FYZICAL performs different tests in order to determine the underlying causes for each person. This year, the week of September 20th is Fight the Fall Week and FYZICAL will be offering free fall risk assessments.
“In our clinic, we generally do both a standing balance test and functional gait test,” Bethany says. “The standing test assesses one’s ability to maintain balance on both a static and moving surface in different visual scenarios, including eyes open, eyes closed, and visual conflict.” Visual conflict involves moving lights projected on the wall in order to mimic situations in which you may be static but objects are moving around you. The projected lights act responsively, meaning they move as you move, which might result in dizziness or imbalance.
“The functional gait test assesses balance with various walking activities such as navigating obstacles, walking backward, walking with eyes closed, turning around, and navigating stairs,” Bethany continues. “Each test serves a different purpose, and all tests are important to better understand the individual person.”
Depending on the results of these tests, FYZICAL Therapy has a specific progression set for each patient to move forward. Based on the patient’s personal tolerances they are then given personalized, specific exercises meant to address their particular areas in need of improvement.
WORKING TOWARD A NO-FALL FALL
With the arrival of autumn and winter, the changes in weather can sometimes add to the likelihood of falling. Losing ones balance on the ice or in wet conditions can certainly lead to a stumble, regardless of age. But even though balance issues are a key contributor to causing falls, there are other factors to consider.
Injuries both prior and current, obesity, a decreased range of motion or mobility, decreased strength, arthritis, and pain can all be contributing factors, Bethany points out.
“Significant hearing loss or a sudden loss of hearing can also most certainly affect balance,” she adds. “However, getting a hearing aid generally helps to address this.”
The lessening of bone density known as osteoporosis can certainly add to the risk of falls, perhaps even increasing their likelihood. The less dense a bone is the higher chances of it breaking from the stress of a fall. “Addressing osteoporosis involves low-impact strengthening and weight bearing in order to decrease risk of injury,” Bethany adds. “For the majority of patients with osteoporosis, their treatment may vary slightly compared to a similar patient without osteoporosis, but the general goals and guidelines will be the same.”
While many of us wish we could go back to the simplicity of childhood, it is being able to once more embrace the physical benefits of youth that appeal to most. As we age, some of those aspects of a strong and healthy body need not slip away.
With the proper testing and care from FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center, regaining and retaining the sense of balance of youth is still a possibility. Finding that balance means you can once more move about on your own and continue exploring your world without fear.
FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center is located at 6809 Knoxville Avenue in Peoria, Illinois. If you are suffering from dizziness or vertigo, imbalance, or have a history of falls, FYZICAL provides free fall risk screenings during Fight the Fall Week, starting September 20th. In order to make an appointment, please call us at (309) 981-8810 or visit us online at www.fyzical.com/peoria.
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