How Physical Therapy Assistants Can Help with a Fall Risk Assessment

Physical therapy assistants have a key role to play in helping their supervising physical therapist deliver treatments to all kinds of patients. One area of concern that has received publicity recently is the risk among the elderly of falling.

It’s a sad but unavoidable fact that many elderly people fall and injure themselves every year — in fact, according to some reports, 33% of those over 65 will fall at least once in a year, and almost 50% of those over 80. This is a frightening statistic, not only for the potential victims themselves but also for their families and caregivers. When people become afraid of falling, they start to avoid everyday activities that they perceive as dangerous, and may gradually begin to lose their independence and self-confidence.

Physical Therapy Assistants Know Prevention Is Better Than Cure

There can be few areas where the intervention of the physical therapy team can make a more important difference than in helping to prevent these kinds of life changing injuries.

Many studies have been carried out to investigate the effectiveness of fall reduction strategies with patients who are considered to be at risk. For example, the journal of the American Physical Therapy Association reported on behavioral change intervention strategies in the Connecticut Collaboration for Fall Prevention. The results of studies like these can inform educational initiatives of physical therapy providers to help minimize risks of these events in the home and elsewhere.

So why do old people fall — and what can physical therapists and physical therapy assistants do about it?

What Causes Old People to Fall?

How Physical Therapy Assistants Can Help with a Fall Risk Assessment

An understanding of the causes of falls amongst the elderly is the foundation of risk management. As we grow older, our muscles weaken, and when this happens in the legs it can affect mobility, particularly walking and balancing. Some people resort to using a walking stick or other device to help them move around, but these may not be enough to support them in every situation. Another contributing factor may be failing eyesight. Conditions such as macular degeneration or cataracts may limit an old person’s ability to see clearly and increase the risk of falling or tripping.

There are also a variety of other medical factors which can contribute to this situation, amongst them osteoarthritis, the after-effects of a stroke, high or low blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s. And let’s not forget the potential for everyday objects in the home to become tripping hazards, from rugs or other articles just left on the floor to the pet dog or cat.

A physical therapist is well placed to monitor relevant medical conditions as part of an overall assessment of a person’s risk of falling. They may be able to suggest training exercises to help improve balance, strength and help the patient to walk more steadily. Physical therapy assistants can help to deliver the therapy program that the PT has devised, instructing patients in the correct way to do exercises and encouraging them with those that they find difficult. They can also observe their progress and report back to the physical therapist as the patient’s status changes.

As well as the purely physical benefits that may come to old people as a result of participating in this program, there’s also a psychological advantage which should not be underestimated. As patients gain greater self-confidence, they are better able to maintain an active and independent lifestyle and see where risks lie.

Physical therapists have the training and experience to help people who have trouble maintaining their balance or who have a history of falling, and their physical therapy assistants are on hand to help them provide treatment and instruction to those who are at risk.

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