Hospital:

Halt Your Fall: How Physical Therapy Helped Burt Regain Confidence While Walking

October 25, 2019

At 70-years-old, one of the most frightening things that can happen to you is falling. Burt Braunius, of Turnersville, NJ, knew this to be true after he took a couple of bad falls. Unaware of what was causing them, he visited a neurologist to rule out any serious underlying diseases. Burt was diagnosed with a mild functional gait disorder and referred to physical therapy.

Gait and balance disorders are one of the most common causes of falls in older adults, and often require physical therapy. They may be caused by a variety of complications – not just ones that “come with age” – and should always be addressed. Signs of a gait or balance disorder include unsteadiness while walking and difficulty positioning one’s body (i.e., getting out of bed or sitting on the toilet).

For people like Burt, physical therapy helps to prevent falls, which is of utmost importance. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injury in adults age 65 and older. Studies show that, in the U.S., one third of older adults will fall each year. Due to bone weakness, 20 to 30 percent of those falls end in injuries, such as hip and knee fractures, and head trauma.

Megan VanZoeren, physical therapist at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, says nearly 40 percent of patients they see are treated for gait and balance disorders. They may be suffering from vestibular disorders (which cause vertigo and dizziness), such as Ménière’s disease; recovering from stroke or a brain tumor; or have lifestyle-related (when too sedentary) muscle weakness and joint pain.

“We work a lot on improving static balance, or standing on unstable surfaces, by practicing on cushions,” said Megan. “We also do a lot of activities that help them balance without their vision. They’re going to need this skill in the shower or in the middle of the night, when they need to use the bathroom.”

“I’ve noticed that my legs can be a little sore, when I get done a session, but I know it’s because I’m getting stronger,” said Burt.

“Over time, we will progress exercises to inclines, declines, and stairs,” continued Megan. “It’s also essential to work on head movements while walking; this stimulates normal daily activities such as grocery shopping.”

“I’ve been going for several weeks now. I haven’t fallen since, and I’m walking a lot better,” said Burt. “It’s definitely been beneficial for me, and everybody has been very nice, attentive, and knowledgeable.”

Physical therapy for balance and fall prevention typically lasts about six to eight weeks, explains Megan. However, if they want to maintain the shape that they’re in, patients need to do their part and continue exercising at home.

“I know how important it is for me to keep walking smoothly and not fall anymore,” said Burt. “My advice for others would be to follow through with what their physical therapists teach them. It definitely makes a difference.”

To learn more about Physical Therapy and other Rehabilitation services offered at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE