Have you ever had to care for someone who is elderly, or maybe you are in your golden years and you see this in your friends, and they seem to have lived beyond years’ worth living? I am talking about a person who is alive, but so disabled that they no longer enjoy life. These are the people who have lost their dignity, no longer in control their lives or their safety, due to frailty and increased fall risk.
As a therapist devoted to neurology and the vestibular system, my aim is to restore function to this population, regaining a life worth living. “We need to focus on adding life to years, and less on adding years to life.”1 Wouldn’t this be easier done if more preventative measures were taken, instead of reactionary ones? I mean, I would much rather prevent an injury than rehabilitate someone from injury, doesn’t that seem logical?
With the proportion of people over the age of 60 growing exponentially in almost every country1, it is imperative that we keep them active so that they can continue to be a part of society and not a burden to care for. Active Ageing is the term that WHO developed that refers to “continuing participation in social, economic, cultural, spiritual, and civic affairs. Active ageing aims to extend healthy life expectancy and quality of life for all people as they age.”2 But in America, the tendency is for our elderly is to retire and become sedentary, which leads to a path of weakness and poor balance, raising the risk of falls significantly. “Globally, falls are a major public health problem.”3 With approximately 424,000 fatal falls each year2, reducing fall risk is a big goal of mine, especially ”since the deaths rates are highest among adults over the age of 60 years.”3
Impaired balance (without any other diagnosis) is not a progressive disease, but rather a weakening and discoordination of the systems of balance. If you want more information about those systems, check out this previous blog post here. With vestibular and sensorimotor rehabilitation, these systems can certainly be improved! By reducing risk of falls, we can essentially lower unnecessary disabilities and deaths that are the result of a fall. If you are a loved one is having difficulty maintaining balance, it is certainly worth a consultation with a therapist trained in vestibular rehabilitation. Maybe you’re wondering what a balance impairment looks like, or how to detect a problem at the earliest onset? Good question! If you’re answering YES to these questions, then getting evaluated is probably a really good idea!
- Do you have difficulty getting up from a chair or out of bed? For instance, it takes more than one try to get up
- Do you experience a numbness or loss of sensation in your legs?
- Do you have trouble walking up or down inclined surfaces?
- Do you ever lose your balance when standing still?
- Do you feel the need to look for support or grab on to something when you are moving around?
- Do you have problems transitioning to different floor surfaces or heights? For example, is it difficult for you to move from carpet to hardwood? Is it hard for you to step off a curb?
- Do you use an assistive device (cane, walker) to walk around?
- Have you fallen more than once in the last year?
- Do you ever feel unsteady or lose your balance when walking? Try walking and looking to the left or right, do you step to the side?
- Do you ever get dizzy?
With a comprehensive treatment plan to rehab all systems of balance to their highest potential, returning to a life that is active and enjoyable, and not full of fear from falling, is an achievable goal!
As always, if you have questions and want more information, please feel free to contact me!
- Holtz, C. Global Health Care. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers; 2008
- What is active ageing?. Available at: www.who.int. Accessed February 16, 2011.
- Falls Fact Sheet. Available at: www.who.int. Accessed Feb 18, 2011