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Balance Therapy and Fall Risks in Seniors
By Pam Dunlap

Pam Dunlap, PT, DPT, NCS, facility director at the UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Balance Lab discusses vestibular rehabilitation, or balance therapy, and what can be done to prevent seniors from falling.

Q: What is vestibular rehabilitation?

A: Vestibular rehabilitation is a type of physical therapy in which patients are evaluated and treated for disorders affecting their balance system. Their symptoms include dizziness and imbalance. Patients who need vestibular rehabilitation may range from young adults who had a concussion, to older adults who have various issues that affect their balance.

Q: What causes dizziness and vertigo?

A: There are many possible causes for dizziness including low blood pressure disturbance of the inner ear, and side effects from medication. It can also be caused by more serious conditions such as stroke or traumatic brain injury. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, is the most common cause of vertigo. It is caused by calcium carbonate crystals, or otoconia, coming out of place within the inner ear. Physical therapists can perform specific head maneuvers to put the crystals back into place.

Q: Why are older adults more prone to falling?

A: Older adults are more prone to falling for a multitude of reasons, including vision impairment, orthopaedic injuries such as a hip or knee replacement, and conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Side effects from certain medications can also increase the risk of falling in older adults.

Q: What can be done to prevent seniors from falling?

A: Physical therapists can help prevent seniors from falling by encouraging them to stay active and exercise to build strength and flexibility. They can also have them practice performing functional activities such as getting out of a chair and walking. Physical therapists can encourage patients to follow up regularly with their doctor to review their medications, remind them to get their eyes examined, and educate them on a home exercise program so that they can maintain their balance.

Q: What can patients do to decrease their fall risk at home?

A: Patients can decrease their fall risk by making sure their home is set up safely. They can do this by removing any loose throw rugs, ensuring there are no cords where they have to walk, and having nightlights in case they get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Grab bars and non-slip mats in the shower, and handrails on staircases, are also good preventative measures to have in place. It’s also a good idea to have a cordless phone handy, in case they fall and need assistance getting up again.

To learn more about vestibular rehabilitation, visit UPMC Centers for Rehab Services or call 1-888-723-4CRS (4277).  

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