How Physical Therapy Can Reduce Risk of Falling

Chris Ferlo, PT- Milford Center

Falls can diminish a senior’s ability to lead an active and independent lifestyle. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, some 35 percent of people over the age of 65 and 50 percent of people over the age of 80 will fall at least once this year.


Licensed physical therapists can help seniors reduce their risks of falling by:

1. Assessing individual risk.

2. Eliminating possible fall hazards at home.

3.Educating about the medical risk factors that may be linked to or caused as a result of a fall.

4. Designing an exercise program and/or balance training specific to each individual’s needs.


Reason for falling may include the these variables:

– Seniors over the age of 80

– Leg, hip and core muscle weakness

– Difficulty with balance

– Difficulty with walking

– Vision problems

– Inner ear disorders

– Medical conditions such as Parkinson’s, stroke or diabetes

– Consumption of four or more medications at the same time

– Psychoactive drugs such as sedatives or antidepressants

– Home hazards including uneven terrain or surfaces, stairs, throw rugs and pets

– Conditions that cause confusion such as Alzheimer’s or dementia


These more risk factors you have, the higher your risk is for injury.


How Physical Therapy Can Help

First, the physical therapist will conduct a complete subjective history screening to assess the risk for falling. Relative information gathered from the individual would include a medical history, medications and chief complaints. The therapist then will conduct a thorough physical examination that includes vital statistics, neurological testing, postural observation, vision assessment, flexibility range, strength measurement, balance testing and gait assessment.


Based on this evaluation, a therapist will design a patient-specific exercise program to improve balance, strength, flexibility and specific functional activities that mimic the movement patterns of everyday life. The program will include:

1. Balance testing.

2. Walking and functional movement activities.

3. Safety activities such as performing more than one task at a time.

4. Strength training for the hips, legs and core muscles.

5. Flexibility and range of motion exercises.

6. Cardiovascular aerobic exercises to improve endurance.

7. Fear management.

8. Education on reducing fall risks.

9. Discharge planning to allow patient to maintain all the benefits achieved in physical therapy through a home exercise program, by joining a wellness program, or via a community-based exercise program.


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