Assessing Fall Risk


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Every year, fall injuries send three million Americans to the emergency room for treatment. Many suffer life-changing hip fractures or head injuries. How can seniors get an accurate picture of their fall risk helping them prevent serious injury … or worse? Ivanhoe has more.

Pedro and Hilda Rivera get outside almost every day. Lately, they’ve become more in tune with their surroundings.

“If I’m coming on uneven terrain, I’m paying attention,” said Hilda.

Fatalities related to falls among seniors have increased 30 percent since 2009.

Ladda Thiamwong, PhD, RN, an associate professor of nursing at University of Central Florida, and her team have developed an assessment that measures a senior’s physical risk of falling. Participants stand barefoot on a scale and close their eyes.

“When you close your eyes, you don’t feel secure. You’re going to tend to move,” explained Thiamwong.

The scale is connected to a computer. It calculates how much a person sways. It’s a measure of balance.

Thiamwong and her colleagues also assess a person’s perceptions of falling, even if they’ve never fallen before, fear of falling can have a big impact.

“They can isolate themselves. They don’t want to do anything. Then their muscles gonna weak and then they gonna fall,” continued Thiamwong.

Experts say one of the best ways to prevent a fall is to do exercises that make your legs stronger like walking, biking, or swimming. Incorporate exercise that improves balance like tai chi or yoga.

For Pedro and Hilda, their daily walk could protect their lives and their quality of life.

“We don’t want to live in assisted living. We want to live in our house for as long as we can,” Pedro expressed.

Professor Thiamwong has developed the assessment so that it can be performed with lightweight, portable sensors. The goal is to travel to senior centers to take assessments to them rather than rely on participants coming to an office or lab to learn their fall risk.


Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; and Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

REPORT #2889

BACKGROUND: One out of four people fall each year, but it’s worse for seniors. Three million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. Falls can cause head injuries and can be very serious, especially if the person is taking certain medicines (like blood thinners). A person who falls and hits their head should see their doctor right away to make sure they don’t have a brain injury. Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling. Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. Many falls do not cause injuries. But one out of five falls does cause a serious injury such as a broken bone or a head injury.


WHAT CAN YOU DO: There are ways to help prevent falling and risking an injury. According to the CDC, falls are not a normal part of aging. You can keep on your feet and avoid the risk of a fall by exercising, more specifically, your lower body. Any type of exercises that make your legs stronger and improve you balance can help reduce the risk of falling. Falling injuries can happen anywhere including your home. As you get older, you need brighter lights to see well. So improve the lighting in your home and also hang up light-weight curtains or shades to reduce glare. As you get older, the way medicines work in your body can change. Some medicines, or combinations of medicines, can make you sleepy or dizzy and can cause you to fall. Ask your doctor about what you should take to improve bone, muscle, and nerve health.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Nursing Assistant, Professor Ladda Thiamwong, at the University of Central Florida developed an assessment tool that uses portable sensors to monitor a patient’s physical activity. At the same time, she administers a survey to gauge the patient’s beliefs about their likelihood of falling. Gauging a patient’s physical ability as well as mental processes gives her a better grasp on how to shape a patient’s treatment plan, which best prevents their falling. Much research conducted in this field looks primarily to physical indicators of a patient’s body, but for many patients this is not the only factor that shapes their perception on how likely they are to fall. “Patients often live in fear of falling and will withdraw from their day-to-day activities because of it,” Thiamwong says. “Perception and physical functionality work together with this issue.” Her work has been recognized both in the academic world through grants and in her ability to mentor and teach.


* For More Information, Contact:

Robert Wells, Public Relations


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