Falls are the leading cause of emergency department visits, hospital admissions, and unintentional death for older adults. Balance and strength impairments are common falls risk factors for community-dwelling older adults. Though physical therapists commonly treat balance and strength, standardized falls screening has not been fully incorporated into physical therapy practice and there is much variation in the frequency, intensity, and duration of therapy prescribed to achieve optimal results. For community-dwelling older adults, a progressive exercise program that focuses on moderate to high-intensity balance exercises appears to be one of the most effective interventions to prevent falls. For more frail older adults in institutional settings, exercise programs in addition to multifactorial interventions appear to show promise as effective falls prevention interventions. The minimum dose of exercise to protect an older adult against falls is 50 hours. This article describes the current best practices for physical therapists to effectively improve balance and manage falls risk in patients. The unique challenges and opportunities for physical therapists to incorporate evidence-based fall-prevention strategies are discussed. Innovative practice models incorporating evidence-based fall-prevention programs and partnerships with public health and aging service providers to create a continuum of care and achieve the optimal dose of balance training are presented.
UNC Division of Physical Therapy, UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Address correspondence to: Tiffany E. Shubert, MPT, PhD, Shubert Consulting, 1 Coggins Mine Ct, Chapel Hill, NC 27517 (firstname.lastname@example.org).