Shelley Osterloh ReportingHalf of all people over 65 have fallen and hurt themselves. In fact, falling --- especially on ice or snow -- can be debilitating for anyone. Balance is a key factor in avoiding injury, so what can we do to improve it?
Any one of us can slip and fall. But for those over 85, falls are the leading cause of accidental death. But the "Fear of Falling" can be just as harmful if it stops you from doing the things you want to do. There are ways to improve balance and confidence when you walk.
Like many older people, Paul Henneman has fallen down.
Paul Henneman, Physical Therapy Patient: “I’m always afraid of falling; however, it’s always in the back of my mind and I have to be real careful on how I stand and walk, otherwise I’ll fall.”
Paul is shaky because of Parkinson disease, but many older people also struggle with balance. Dr. Lee Dibble says people who fall may start a downward spiral.
Dr. Lee Dibble, Univ. of Utah College of Health Physical Therapist: “They get weaker, they lose confidence, they lose sensory abilities as a result of inactivity. And therefore, they amplify their risk of falls, so when they do stand up, they’re at an even higher risk than they were previously.”
To determine where Paul's balance is weak, Dr. Dibble checks his three sensory functions that are responsible for balance: his feelings through his feet and legs, visual perception, and the inner ear. A machine measures a person's stability.
Dr. Lee Dibble: “So we force our patients to the edges of their stability. In some cases we have them stumble and we have to catch them. So, by doing that, they can better define what they can do and what they can't do."
Paul Henneman "It's been really helpful."
And for the rest of us, you need to practice and challenge your own balance in a safe way. Something as simple as walking regularly helps to improve balance and keeps muscles strong. It also keeps people more active by improving confidence.