Most of us take our sense of balance for granted—until we lose it, that is.
The ability to sense where you are in space, move gracefully, and stay on your feet as you go about your day isn’t a given. It’s a skill that you develop over time. And like any other skill, you can lose it if you don’t use it—but you can also improve it, both through practice and through assistive technologies.
Unfortunately, many people don’t start taking poor balance and fall risk seriously until after they’ve had a major accident. And the costs of even one fall can be very high.
Let’s show you what we mean.
A Sad Story
A while back, we had an older patient come in for a checkup. During the appointment we conducted a full fall risk assessment, identified some balance issues, and recommended that she start wearing balance braces for her feet and ankles. This would help her maintain stability during daily tasks and reduce the risk of a fall.
Unfortunately, her general practitioner did not agree, and based on that advice she decided not to get the braces.
A little while later, she was back in to see us. In the meantime, she had experienced a serious fall that had required two surgeries to drain a hematoma in her brain. Would the balance braces have prevented that fall? Quite possibly.
The ordeal was a painful learning experience for our patient, and it was also a learning experience for us. It taught us how hard we have to work to make sure you get the preventative care you need.
Because the consequences of even one fall can be lifelong, and devastating.
Falling by the Numbers
For starters, falls are distressingly common among the senior population. By CDC’s estimates, fully one quarter of all American 65 and older will fall at least once this year. Those falls will result in roughly 3 million visits to the ER, nearly 1 million hospitalizations, and more than 25,000 direct fatalities. And because of our aging population, these numbers are only going up.
And as we said, it only takes one fall to change a life forever. Start with the fact that major injuries like broken bones (feet, hips, arms, etc.) or intercranial bleeding are very common. These injuries can force lengthy hospital stays where you aren’t able to exercise or stay active. Rehabbing after these injuries can be extensive and difficult, and unfortunately many people never really fully recover, and never really regain their previously levels of activity.
But even superficial injuries like cuts, bruises, and pain can deeply shape your outlook and your lifestyle. The fear of falling again—and suffering more serious injuries—causes many people to limit their activities voluntarily.
This can create a vicious cycle, where lack of activity reduces your fitness, balance, and mobility, which makes falling even more likely than before.
It also can create other kinds of scars, the ones you can’t always see on the surface. Depression. Social isolation. Feeling helpless or unwanted.
In other words? Fall prevention is really important. Taking it seriously—before you fall, not after—could make a dramatic difference to your long-term quality of life.
So that’s all well and good, but what does that look like?
One of the things we do at our office to help you keep steady on your feet is performing a fall risk assessment.
We’ll ask you some basic questions about your history and your medical condition—for example, whether you’ve fallen in the past, or if you feel weak or unsteady on your feet, or whether you feel you need to constantly grip stationary objects to keep your balance.
We’ll also review your medical history for conditions that can influence instability. For example, arthritic ankles, foot deformities, peripheral neuropathy, or even poor hearing and vision can increase your fall risk. We’ll watch you walk and look for shuffling feet, stumbling, etc.
Based on the risk assessment, we may recommend some preventative measures to keep you on your feet. These might include:
- Balance braces (ankle-foot orthoses, or AFOs). These braces slide comfortably inside shoes and under clothing and help support and stabilize the ankle through normal motion and activity. Although they are not a fool-proof prevention strategy for preventing falls, they can make a big difference—especially when combined with other strategies.
- Foot care. It’s hard to keep your footing when your feet themselves are unstable, in pain, or numb to sensitivity. We’ll provide whatever foot and ankle care you need to get your feet in proper working order—custom orthotics, perhaps, or treatment for neuropathy, arthritis, a bunion, etc.
- Strength training. We all tend to lose muscle mass and strength as we age. But at the same time, regular exercise can preserve strength longer, and you’re never too old to make improvements. Keeping the muscles and supportive soft tissues of your feet, ankles, and legs strong helps keep you steady on your feet.
- Balance training. Like we said at the top, balance is a skill that can always be developed. We can recommend safe and effective exercises to help keep you stable and mobile as you go about your day.
- Environmental changes. If you’re at high risk of falling, you should make your home as safe as possible. Clean up clutter and remove obstacles. Reduce the number of times you have to go up and down stairs. Keep everyday objects close at hand, rather than high up in a cupboard. Install night lights, grab bars, non-skid rugs, etc.
- Referrals to other specialists. Fall prevention is a multi-disciplinary effort! When conditions outside the scope of foot and ankle care are contributing to your fall risk, we’re happy to talk to your general practitioner or provide a referral to another specialist who can help. This might include an optometrist or ophthalmologist to help with vision, an audiologist for your hearing, or an occupational therapist to help you assess the safety of your home—just to name a few examples.
If balance is starting to become a concern for you—whether or not you’ve already taken a fall—it’s time to get a fall risk assessment and preventative care options. To schedule an appointment with Carmel Foot Specialists, please contact the office closest to you today:
- Myers Park: (704) 334-8682
- South Charlotte: (704) 542-8253