Falls & Injuries – Risky Business

Fall related injuries are a major concern for many people around the world.  With major advancements in public health over the past century or so, our expected life spans have been expanding.  While we have done a great job staving off infections and acute diseases, we have had a harder time dealing with chronic diseases or physical decline.  A major concern that comes up as we age is falling. The statistics for falls are not great; people who have falls that lead to injury tend to have a shorter lifespan than people who haven’t been injured from a fall.  The amount of falls that occur are pretty high as well.  

For the so-called older adult (usually defined as anyone 65 or older), falls tend to be high on the mind.  People are much more aware of the risks associated with falls than they used to be even 10 years ago. Having a fear of falls is, in some way, a good thing.  When people are so afraid of falling that they stop doing certain activities, it isn’t exactly better. The prevalence of heart disease and cancer rates, both of which are linked to lower levels of activity, suggest that we need to make sure we’re moving more.  So where do we find a balance? Pardon the pun.  

There are validated assessments that can help identify people who are at risk for falls.  If we select the correct assessment for the activity in question, we can at least help someone make better decisions.  The person’s goal will largely determine what test needs to be performed, however, so there is no one-size-fits-all assessment that can be performed.  For the “average” adult, however, there are some good tests that can tell you if you’re at an increased risk for fall related injuries. The best part is that many of these can be performed on your own!  

If you have fallen in the past year, or feel very unbalanced, have someone else around who can help you.  It’s best to at least have a counter or wall nearby for support, just in case you need it.  

  • Timed Up and Go – This is a very simple test that only requires a chair and a timer.  The test (described by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention here) starts with a person sitting in a chair.  They’re instructed to stand up, walk 10 feet forward, and then return to the chair.  The timer starts as soon as you stand and stops as soon as you sit back down. The CDC lists 12 seconds as the cutoff time, but depending on any diseases that a person may have, the cutoff time may be different.  
  • Single Leg Stance – Standing on one leg is a surprisingly straightforward test that can provide a lot of information.  A reasonable goal is to be able to stand on each leg for 30 seconds without using your other leg or hands.  Stand near a sturdy surface like a countertop in case you need the support.  
  • 4 Square Step Test – This test requires a little set up, but is pretty valuable.  This test can also be a little more risky, so if you’re reliant on a cane or walker, you should give this a pass.  You can find a visual here to explain the set up, but it basically has you setting up 4 sticks (such as a cane or dowel) so that you have 4 “squares” on the floor (see the image below).  The goal is to move between the four squares in order as safely and quickly as possible. The order is as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 4, 3, 2, 1, starting in square 1 while facing square 2 without changing directions the entire time.  The goal is to be able to complete the test in 15 seconds. If you don’t happen to have 4 canes lying around your house (which is totally reasonable), you can use 2 long strips of tape to visualize the lines. This does lessen the test because you can get away with not having to lift your feet though.   
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These 3 tests are relatively simple and can be performed at home without any specialized equipment.  They also don’t need to have specialized training to tell if you did well or not. A good way to use these is to test yourself regularly – every week, month, etc. and see how your scores change over time.  You should be able to improve your times on these tests. If you notice your times getting worse, it’d be a great idea to see a physical therapist to see what might be going on!  

Have questions on how to prevent fall related injuries?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.  

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.

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