After the Fall: Regaining an Active Life

Over a span of 8 months, I have experienced seven falls with injuries. I have intermediate dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), making me more prone to falls.

According to an article about AMD and balance issues from the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine, “2/3 of these patients present visuomotor and balance deficits resulting in clumsiness and increased risk of falls”. Falls are the leading cause of death for people 65 years and older.1 2

I lost my mom in my late sixties after she fell, resulting in a serious injury. My family reminded me I was now the matriarch and slowly I began to think of myself as old.

Deciding to reach out for help

Gradually I began to curtail my activity. I quit squatting down to garden. Getting out of my chair became more difficult. I continued daily walks but they became shorter year by year. When I fell, I couldn’t get up without assistance.

I decided it was time for me to seek help with my balance issues so I wouldn’t become another fall statistic.

After my most serious fall, I made an appointment with my primary care doctor. We discussed my risk factors for falls. In addition to AMD, I ruptured the gluteus medius resulting in complete atrophy of the muscle. This muscle plays a major role in walking and the ability to lift your leg.

My 3rd risk factor was my age, 73. My doctor said that since nothing could restore my vision or atrophied muscle, he felt I would benefit from physical therapy. Because of my impaired vision and driving limitations, I qualified for in-home visits with a physical therapist.

The journey begins

My initial assessment was performed by a physical therapist. After watching me walk, sit, and stand, he threw out a lot of new terms. He talked about the role of muscle memory proprioceptors for balance. 

With aging, proprioception is affected and may result in falls. He explained that physical therapy would “wake up” my proprioceptors and retrain my muscle memory.

Muscle memory begins in the brain. When you move, you activate sensors in your muscles. Over a period of time, you develop new pathways between muscles and the brain.

Preventing falls with macular degeneration

A physical therapy assistant (PTA) worked with me twice a week on the treatment plan developed by the physical therapist. The plan consisted of exercises to improve my balance and build muscle strength.

It was especially important to do exercises to build core strength. I was instructed in exercises to do on my own throughout the week.

My PTA taught me it was important to get down on the floor daily and figure out how to get up using only your hands. After a week of strengthening exercises, I can now get up without assistance.

She also said “yes, you CAN do squats”; get your butt sticking out and make it easier on the knees.

Get up from a straight-back chair with arms crossed with a goal of 20. This strengthens your major leg muscles making it easier to stand or squat.

The takeaway

In only seven short weeks, physical therapy gave me my active life back. I am stronger than I have been in years and losing my fear of falls. It’s never too late to regain balance and build strength.

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