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Fall Prevention

Fall Prevention = SAFE

Strength, Awareness, Flexibility, Energy

A fall can be devastating, greatly effecting quality of life, mobility and independence. The fear of falling can be just as destructive, causing one to avoid activities, which in turn can result in isolation, loneliness and depression. This disengagement can further contribute to diminished strength, endurance, flexibility and balance, thereby exacerbating fear and vulnerability to falls. Bill Gallagher provides practical ways to prevent falls including exercises drawn from Tai Chi, Yoga (usually standing postures or chair-based), and Feldenkrais, offering patients a fall prevention program designed to build Strength, Awareness, Flexibility and Energy.

A significant, damaging fall can precipitate a steep downward spiral culminating in disability. Tai Chi Chuan prevents falls. Frailty and Injuries: Cooperative Studies of Intervention Techniques (FICSIT) was a large scale, (over 2000 people participated) prospective study to determine the effects of a number of interventions designed to prevent falls. Seven sites participated, each implementing a different strategy such as traditional physical therapy (individual or group), education/behavior modification, endurance training, flexibility, exercise, home safety evaluations, balance training, resistive training, nutritional supplements and Tai Chi Chuan. Only two interventions were linked with a statistically significant decrease in the number of falls. A group that engaged in strength and balance training (individualized physical therapy) saw a statistically significant decline in falls, while the most potent intervention tested, Tai Chi Chuan, prevented 47.5% of the falls that would have been expected.

Given Tai Chi's ability to prevent falls, it is not surprising that literature and clinical experience shows that Tai Chi Chuan can improve balance. Several studies have compared Tai Chi Chuan practitioners to sedentary people. Each of these have concluded that the Tai Chi practitioners had significantly better balance. Prospective studies have also found improvement in all kinds of balance tests. Tai Chi is also effective in maintaining strength & balance improvements gained in an orthodox physical therapy program.

Finally, participants feel an improvement in balance. A perceived increase in balance will tend to increase confidence in walking, which in turn, leads to a reduced fear of falling, reversing or slowing the spiral into frailty.

Bill Gallagher PT, CMT, CYT is a New York City (NYC) based physical therapist, yoga teacher and tai chi teacher and makes house calls for fall prevention in Manhattan.

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