Patients with a variety of medical diagnoses can have subtle or complex balance problems, which could lead to accidental falls. Balance and movement/coordination disorders are difficult to diagnose and treat because multiple factors contribute to the problem.
A systematic and integrated approach to all aspects of balance disorders can lead to successful rehabilitation. Physical therapy assessment and treatment offers people who have balance disorders the best way to recover or compensate for their impairments.
Falls by elderly patients - 33-50 percent of Americans over age 65 fall at least once a year, and some falls result in severe problems. Each year, there are more than 350,000 hip fractures and $20 billion in healthcare costs related to falls (according to 1998 statistics).
> Inner ear problems/dizziness. There are 1.3 million patient visits to physicians every year related to this problem
> Strokes (400,000 new strokes each year)
> Head injuries (450,000 per year)
> Neurological disorders (such as Parkinson's disease and Multiple Sclerosis)
There are many factors that identify people who are at high risk for falling. These include:
Poor vision, previous fall, low blood pressure (postural hypotension), muscle weakness, inner ear problems, decreased cognition, depression, medication interactions.
Poor shoes, inadequate lighting, uneven or slick surfaces, throw rugs. How can you identify people who are at high risk for falling?
> Medical examination
> Risk factor identification
> Balance testing - computerized, functional activities
> Mobility testing
> Sensation testing
> Strength and flexibility testing
Treatment focuses on specific risk factors identified for each person, such as muscle weakness or inflexibility, environmental hazards or vision problems.
Balance activities and other therapeutic exercise prescribed by physical therapists can help improve muscle strength/control and balance reactions. Computerized balance training can help improve the body's sensation-balance systems for improved function.
Starting a Balance Program
See your doctor for a medical examination related to your balance problems. A physician referral for a physical therapy evaluation and treatment of balance disorders is the next step. Most health insurance plans pay a major portion of the therapy cost with physician orders.