Balance Training and Prevention of Falls

Falls are one of the most serious health risks for older adults. They are not only the leading cause of injury-related deaths in this population, but they are also a significant cause of disability. In fact, falls cause ten percent of all emergency department visits and more than half of injury-related hospitalizations.

Approximately one in three older adults falls each year. As the number of older adults increases rapidly over the next decade, the annual cost for fall-related injuries is expected to skyrocket, reaching $44 billion by 2020. Although most falls don’t result in severe physical injuries, a fall or near-fall often produces a psychological fear of falling. This contributes to a self-imposed decrease in activity, followed by functional declines and a greater risk for falls.

Falls in older adults are often viewed as unpredictable and unavoidable accidents. However, identification of the factors linked to falls combined with appropriate interventions to correct these conditions can dramatically lessen the risk of a fall. In many cases, falls are caused by a loss of balance or the inability to maintain the body’s center of gravity (COG) over its base of support (BOS). There are two types of balance:

  • Static balance, which is the ability to control postural sway during quiet standing; and

  • Dynamic balance, which is the ability to react to changes in balance and to anticipate changes as the body moves. Dynamic balance includes maintaining balance while walking and stepping over or around objects.

The potential applications of balance training are tremendous. Training can be performed to reduce the risk of additional falls in chronic fallers or improve balance in aging adults who want to reduce the risk of their first fall.

Furthermore, balance exercises can be incorporated into rehabilitation programs for people with hip fracture, stroke and arthritis.

Reducing fall risk by improving balance in older adults will not only avoid increasing health care costs, but it also will give older adults a more active life. Further, providing effective interventions to target fall risk can make a major difference in quality of life for these individuals.

Written by Michael E. Rogers, Ph.D., FACSM