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The $67 Billion Problem for Seniors

$67.7 billion.  That, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be the total cost for fall injuries experienced by older Americans (65+) in the year 2020. Medicare and Medicaid will cover about three-quarters of these costs.

This is a shocking amount of money, but the burden felt by older Americans goes beyond the pocketbook. Fall-related injury is a quality of life issue that affects people more and more as they age due to factors related to aging – factors like loss of muscle tone and strength, slower reflexes, less coordination, eyesight issues, and even the side effects of medication.

One out of every four Americans 65 and older experience falls each year, says the CDC, leading to more than 2.8 injuries which span a spectrum from bumps, bruises and sprains to broken bones and head trauma.

Just the fear of falling as you age, in fact, can result in limited activity, which only perpetuates that problem. The lack of activity leads to a loss of muscle tone, good balance, and bone density, which can actually increase the risk of falls.

But people of all ages can vastly reduce the risk of falling through exercise that focuses on both strength and balance. In fact, multiple studies show that training which focuses on both strength and balance can most effective lead to a reduction in falls among older adults. Taking physical therapist-led group exercise classes has specifically been shown to reduce the risk of falls while increasing balance and improving quality of life.

This is great news but it is important to keep in mind that all effective fall-prevention efforts should include the following components:

Fall Screening: If fall prevention is the goal, an assessment of an individual’s personal risk of falling is an ideal place to start. A thorough fall screening with take look into a person’s strength, balance and coordination, as well as other factors such as vision, medication, medical history, footwear, and even home safety.

Balance Training: A key to preventing falls is to maintain and improve balance. Doing so means continually challenging your body’s balance through personalized (and safe) exercises — single-leg stands, for instance.

Strength Exercises: Maintaining good lower-body strength has been specifically cited as another key factor in fall prevention. A physical therapist can assess a person’s individual strengths and weaknesses and create a program that specifically addresses muscle groups that can improve balance and gait.

Environment Assessment: A fall prevention strategy must always include specific suggestions on how to improve one’s environment for the sake of safety. Decluttering walk spaces, securing loose rugs, creating non-slip surfaces in the shower or tub, and even improving footwear can all go far in preventing falls.

So let’s save a little money and invest time in fall prevention because the year 2020 is just around the corner.

Dr. Jones is a physical therapist, speaker, author and co-owner of Kinetic Physical Therapy & Wellness and Kinetic Pediatric Therapy who specializes and holds several credentials in orthopedics and manual therapy. He is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Therapists.