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Falls in the Medicare Population

This past weekend I was reading the April 2009 Physical Therapy journal which featured an interesting article on Falls in the Medicare Population.  I felt the information was very important to pass on to my fellow Sandpoint residents.  This study was conducted on 12,669 respondents.  They reported that in 2002 reported estimates of falls ranged from 3.7 million single falls to 3.1 million recurrent falls, with an estimated 2.2 million people having medically injurious falls.  Recurrent falls were more likely with increased age, being female, reporting fair or poor health, and increased number of limitations in personal activities of daily living (dressing, bathing).  Only 48% of beneficiaries reported talking to a health care provider following a fall and only 60% of those beneficiaries reported receiving fall prevention information.  They concluded that “health care providers may be missing many opportunities to provide fall prevention information to older people”.

I felt this article not only demonstrated the number of people who fall, but the lack of follow through after the fall.   Falling is serious stuff!!!  So serious that in March of 2007 Medicare implemented a new program called Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI).  As a part of this program, Physical Therapists were asked to screen patients aged 65 and older for future falls risks.  Those who had one fall in the prior year with an injury or 2 falls without an injury were to be screened.   Getting screened is critical as falls may lead to hip fractures, hospitalization, and nursing home admissions.  Sadly, despite speaking to local physicians and nurse practitioners as well as writing articles in the Daily Bee about falls preventions, I have screened less than 10 patients since March of 2007!

Most of my patients are fiercely independent and want to live in their own homes as long as possible.  Avoiding falls is one way to achieve this.  Physical Therapists are uniquely qualified to assess strength and balance and provide an idea of how likely you are to fall.  We are able to turn this assessment into treatment by helping you improve your strength and balance.  Of course patients need to be both patient and motivated as any strengthening and/or balance programs may take 6-8 weeks.  We will look at a patient’s ability to stand from sitting without pushing off from a chair, the ability to stand on one leg for ten seconds, to stand with your eyes closed for 30 seconds, the ability to shift weight from one foot to the other as well as the ability to pick something up off of the floor.

Please feel free to call me with any questions.  Medicare does require a signed plan of care from your physician within one month of Physical Therapy evaluation.

Mary Boyd, MS, PT has 22 years of experience and is the owner of Mountain View Physical Therapy.  She can be reached at 290-5575.

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