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Two simple tests you can try to evaluate your risk of falling

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022
an elderly couple in their home

Note: The suggestions in this blog are not intended to replace the advice of your clinician. If you are unsure about them, please speak to your therapist.

As many as one-third of older adults fall at least once a year. These falls often have unfortunate consequences, like fractures or head injuries, increased burden on caregivers, and higher healthcare costs.

Even the fear of falling again can make people restrict their activities thinking that they are reducing their risk, but the resulting deconditioning may actually increase fall risk.

If you previously went to a gym, recreation centre, or an exercise room/class in the facility you live in, you may not feel very comfortable doing so yet.

Spending more time outdoors was a reasonable option in the summer but as the weather gets colder, this becomes more challenging, which can further contribute to deconditioning and increase fall risk.

Try these two simple tests to evaluate your risk of falling

  1. Stand beside a counter that you could touch for safety if needed. See if you can stand on one foot without touching for 6.5 seconds or longer.If not, you may be at increased risk of falls and should consider working to reduce this risk.
  2. Sit in a firm, standard chair with arms. Have your back against the back of the chair and your arms folded across your chest. Time how long it takes you to stand up fully and sit back down 5 times as quickly as you can (you do not need to touch the back of the chair each time you sit). Stop timing once your butt hits the chair after your 5th stand-up. Did it take you 12 seconds or longer? If so, you may be at increased risk for falls and should take action!

These tests also serve as great exercises to improve strength and balance. If you are quite unsteady or require an assistive device for balance, only do these with someone standing by to keep you safe.

The great thing is that in addition to these straight-forward tests being evaluations, you can turn them both into exercises that are useful for improving balance and strength.

With practice, see if you can hold single leg balance for longer and longer (staying by a countertop for safety if you need to touch). See if you can gradually increase the number of sit-to-stands you can do before your muscles tire.

Remember to stay safe outdoors

Additionally, don’t let your fear of falling stop you from enjoying the beauty and health benefits (both physical and mental) of walking outdoors, but do it safely by:

  • Wearing proper outdoor footwear
  • Check out Amazon or your local sporting goods store to buy some good quality walking shoes
  • Seeking out walking areas that are kept free of tough terrain
  • Staying in well-lit areas and having motion sensor or ‘dusk to dawn’ lighting installed around your home so that you can see obstacles

More in-depth fall risk assessment and treatment to improve your strength, balance and conditioning are available from the Dizziness & Balance Therapists at Lifemark clinics coast-to-coast. For more information, visit our dizziness and balance page or book an appointment with us online.

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

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