It is estimated that one in four adults over the age of 65 will fall this year. However, falls are not a normal part of aging. That was the emphasis of the Falls Prevention seminar we recently hosted at our Harrisonburg clinic. Over 32 area residents attended to learn more about the many factors that play into falling and what they can do to avoid becoming another statistic. The presentation that was conducted by Drs. Jennifer Grove PT, and Colleen Whiteford PT, discussed the potentially life-altering impact of falls and the factors that can be modified to prevent falls. 

Dr. Grove, who specializes in geriatric physical therapy with a special emphasis on Parkinson’s Disease began the presentation by stating: “People mistakenly assume that falls are just an inevitable consequence of aging, but there is much that can be done to minimize the frequency and severity of falls.”  Obvious environmental hazards such as throw rugs and electrical cords are widely known factors that can result in falls, therefore the seminar focused on less commonly recognized predisposing factors such as loss of mobility in the trunk, lower limbs, and neck, as well as dysfunctions in the soft tissues, such as fascia. Fascia is a connective tissue that wraps around muscles and forms a network between muscles, giving it a vital role in coordinated gross movement. Problems arise when the fascia loses its ability to slide independently of the surrounding tissue layers, resulting in pain, altered mobility, and loss of sensation.  “The likelihood of falls increases when the fascia becomes dysfunctional in the head/neck, feet, and torso,” stated Whiteford, who is also an instructor in the Fascial Manipulation® method, a treatment approach that all our therapists are trained to use. Besides the role that fascia plays in movement, Dr. Whiteford pointed out: “the fascia is highly innervated (it has many nervous system connections) and provides information about our environment and where we are in space.  When it’s compromised in critical segments such as the feet, the body loses its perspective on position sense and falls can occur.”  Dr. Whiteford also discussed research supporting the role the fascia plays in pain as well as joint restriction and degeneration which are common factors in increasing fall risk.

The seminar also advocated for the use of specific exercises and activities that incorporate a mental challenge while performing a physical task – called dual task exercise.  Dr. Grove stated dual task performance is the reality we face every day and a common factor in falls.”  “You are walking in the yard and a squirrel runs out.  It’s easy to lose focus on how you are walking as you look at the squirrel.  Couple that with compromised mobility and sensation deficits in the feet and the next thing you know you’re lying on the ground.”  Exercises such as walking and reciting the names of family members or counting backwards are frequently utilized in the clinic, and tailored to the skill level of each patient.  We also discussed the use of our FITLIGHT® system which can play a big role in retraining dual task performance. Commonly used for sports performance, FITLIGHTS® can be programmed to an endless variety of patterns and speeds that require a subject to touch or reach near them in order to deactivate one light and move through the routine. Dr Grove discussed the critical role FITLIGHTS play in helping “people forget about their pain or fear of movement and focus on reaching or walking to turn off the light. It’s a great way to stimulate their mind while working their body – all while having some fun too!”

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