As the crisp autumn air will soon announce that the season of fall is upon us, there’s a more pressing concern for the elderly population: preventing the metaphorical “fall” of backward disequilibrium.

We know additionally, as the elderly demographic continues to grow, the incidence of falls and their associated consequences also rises. 

Backward disequilibrium, where individuals experience an unsteady feeling or tend to lean or fall backward, presents unique risks and complications. 

Skilled nursing facilities play a pivotal role in addressing these concerns, and one of the critical interventions they offer is physical therapy. Physical therapy stands out as a vital tool in both preventing these metaphorical “falls” and minimizing the repercussions when they do occur.

Let’s review the benefits of physical therapy and how it effectively reduces the risks associated with backward disequilibrium.

1. Improved balance and posture

One of the main causes of backward disequilibrium is poor balance. As we age, muscle strength, proprioception and vestibular function often decline. Physical therapy introduces exercises specifically designed to improve balance, coordination and posture. By reinforcing these aspects, seniors can navigate their environment with more confidence and a reduced risk of falling backward.

2. Strength training

Loss of muscle strength is common in older adults. Physical therapy programs incorporate strength training exercises tailored to the individual’s needs. This training can target core muscles, lower extremity strength and other areas essential for maintaining an upright position. As muscle strength improves, the chances of experiencing backward disequilibrium diminish.

3. Gait analysis and training

A shuffling gait or irregular walking pattern increases the risk of falling. Physical therapists can analyze a patient’s gait, identify issues and introduce exercises to correct them. Through gait training, seniors can achieve a steadier and more confident stride, reducing the likelihood of backward disequilibrium.

4. Education on fall prevention

Beyond the physical aspects, education is an integral component of fall prevention. Physical therapists provide advice on safe movement, strategies for getting up from chairs, correct footwear and potential home hazards. Armed with this knowledge, patients are better prepared to avoid situations that might cause them to lean or fall backward.

5. Use of assistive devices

Physical therapists are adept at recommending and training individuals to use assistive devices, such as walkers, canes and grab bars. These tools offer additional stability and can be particularly useful for those with significant balance or strength issues.

6. Enhanced confidence

The fear of falling can be paralyzing, often leading to decreased activity and further physical decline. As patients engage in physical therapy and experience improvement in strength, balance and mobility, their confidence also grows. This renewed self-assuredness encourages them to stay active and engaged, reinforcing their physical gains.

7. Addressing underlying issues

Many conditions, like Parkinson’s, arthritis or stroke, can increase the risk of backward disequilibrium. Physical therapy in skilled nursing facilities can address these underlying issues, offering exercises and strategies to mitigate their impact on balance and strength.

In conclusion, physical therapy serves as a multifaceted approach in skilled nursing facilities to combat the risks associated with backward disequilibrium. 

With a combination of strength training, balance exercises, education and personalized care plans, physical therapists offer seniors a fighting chance against the significant risks of falling. By investing in comprehensive physical therapy programs, we ensure that our elderly population has the tools and support they need to navigate their environment safely and confidently.

Renee Kinder, MS, CCC-SLP, RAC-CT, is Executive Vice President of Clinical Services for Broad River Rehab. Additionally, she serves as a member of American Speech Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Healthcare and Economics Committee, is a member of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine community faculty and is an advisor to the American Medical Association’s Current Procedural Terminology CPT® Editorial Panel. She can be reached at [email protected] 

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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