Falls can be a serious problem for patients with neurologic disorders that affect the way they move. Parkinson's disease patients commonly experience a loss of balance, freezing episodes and stiffness. Multiple Sclerosis patients can also experience joint stiffness and run out of energy quickly, which can make movement difficult. For these patients, the first step in preventing falls is understanding what is most likely to cause a fall. Then, they can develop strategies that help minimize the possibility of a fall happening.
To help stop falls before they happen, specialists focus on building a patient’s strength and making lifestyle changes that minimize their risk. Physical therapy can help patients build strength, balance, and coordination to increase their quality of life. Exercise at any point is beneficial; however, the earlier in the diagnosis that patients begin an exercise program, the more changes they are likely to be able to make. Other lifestyle tips that can help patients avoid a fall include:
- Clear pathways – remove clutter that can be tripped over from your walkways.
- Use proper gear – wear supportive shoes and use any recommended assistive devices when you’re moving around your home
- Watch out for pets - animals want to be close to you, but they can also be tripped over. If you’ll be cooking or walking back and forth a lot, try to keep your pets in another room.
- Time your medication – dizziness, stiffness or fatigue can be worse right before your next dose of medication. If you plan on going out, time your trips in between doses when you feel strongest.
- Rest – when needed, don’t be afraid to rest until you’ve regained some energy.
- Plan ahead – if you’re going out, plan out your trip. If you’re going to a park, pick one with benches you can rest on. If you need to go to a busy public space, try to go during the off hours when there won’t be a crowd. If it’s the middle of summer, plan to go out early or later in the day, when it’s cooler.
- Relax – if stress causes you to tense up, practice relaxation techniques to help you loosen up.
At Cone Helth’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers, patients come for treatment three times a week, for six to eight weeks, to learn safe exercises that they can continue to practice at home after treatment ends. Before starting an exercise program, it’s important to talk with a physical therapist who specializes in patients with Parkinson’s so they can individualize the exercises to the specific needs of the patient. The exceptional team of physical therapists and related healthcare providers at Cone Health Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers is dedicated to educating individuals in the community about the importance of exercising to help treat the symptoms of movement disorders.
Kristen Unger is a doctor of physical therapy at Cone Health Outpatient Rehab Center at Reidsville. She received her Bachelor of Science in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, and a Master of Science in clinical exercise physiology/biomedical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2010 and 2011, respectively. She received her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Elon University in 2015. Kristen recently founded the Rockingham County Parkinson’s Disease support group.