Fall risk assessments are an essential part of podiatry, especially for the aging population. With more and more people living longer lives than ever before, it’s important to identify potential risk factors that may make a fall more likely to occur. Armed with that information, a treatment plan can be developed with a podiatrist to help prevent future injury and improve quality of life.
What Can Increase The Risk Of A Fall?
To begin, it’s important to know what risk factors and causes generally contribute to an increased fall risk.
The most common risk factors are simply normal side effects of aging – postural and gait changes. As people age, their stride length decreases and the angle of the gait changes. When combined with a decrease in the body’s strength, balance, and reaction time, older people naturally have a more difficult time avoiding or stopping a fall.
This risk is even further increased by wearing the “wrong” shoes. Whether that is due to a lack of traction causing slipping, inappropriate support that changes the gait, or increased foot pain from a poor shoe fit, it’s impossible to understate the importance of wearing a good shoe when it comes to decreasing fall risk.
There are also other health factors to take into consideration, including health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and poor eyesight. While many don’t directly impact the feet, the medications needed to manage them can slow reaction time even further or cause dizziness that changes the patient’s center of gravity.
How Does a Fall Risk Assessment Work?
A fall risk assessment starts with the patient (or the patient’s caretaker) taking an honest look at their health and wellbeing. Have they fallen anytime in the last year? Do they feel unsteady or worried about falling? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” further evaluation and assessment is strongly recommended.
The patient will move on to an official fall risk screening with a podiatrist. While there are multiple styles of assessment available, the most widely used in the United States is the Morse Fall Scale. This scale evaluates the patient risk by looking at six different variables, which are individually scored before being added together. Those variables are:
- A history of recent falls and their frequency
- Any secondary medical conditions
- Use of an ambulatory aid (cane, walker, wheelchair, etc.)
- Need for an IV (mainly for hospitalized or long term care patients)
- Gait and ease of transferring (normal, weak, or impaired)
- Mental status
The final score will categorize patients as either no risk, low risk, or high risk.
What Happens After The Fall Risk Assessment
Once the patient has met with a podiatrist and undergone the fall risk assessment, the next step is developing a treatment plan.
In most cases, this will start with a physical examination so that the podiatrist can assess any potential physical problems with the feet and ankles. If any are identified, assistive devices like ankle foot or custom orthotics may be recommended. Advice on footwear may also be given.
Depending on the patient’s risk factors, physical therapy may also be recommended to help develop more strength and balance. Increased core strength can help steady the patient’s gait so that they feel more stable on their feet.
Fall risk assessments are one of the most important tools a podiatrist has to evaluate and help prevent future issues. No one should have to live with a constant fear of a fall. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation!