Dr. Carl Overmiller, a general surgeon, and his wife Sue, a physical therapist, both work at WVU Medicine’s Jackson General Hospital in Ripley.
The Overmillers recently spoke with the Ripley Rotary Club concerning falls, traumatic injuries that can occur at any age.
Dr. Overmiller said that every month they review cases that have come into the trauma unit to determine the different types of traumas treated, whether they have been admitted to JGH or sent on to another level of care at a different location.
“Out of those cases, about 50 percent of them are falls,” Dr. Overmiller said.
According to Dr. Overmiller, falls can be considered anything from falling off a ladder, to tripping over something, to falling from a standing position.
“Falls can cause lots of problems,” Dr. Overmiller said.
The World Health Organization defines a fall as an event which results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level. Fall-related injuries may be fatal or non-fatal, though most are non-fatal.
Dr. Overmiller provided an example of what could count as a fall.
“If your dog comes running in and knocks you down, that doesn’t count as a fall, but if you trip over your dog, that does,” Dr. Overmiller said.
According to Dr. Overmiller, statistics show that approximately 25 percent of people over 65-years-old fall every year. He said that percentage increases to 50 percent for those over 80 years of age.
In other statistics, over 3 million people a year go to the Emergency Room due to falls and around 30,000 of those die from the trauma related to the fall.
“Falls in people over the age of 60 account for over $50 billion dollars a year in, not only medical care, but loss of revenue, and other expenses,” Dr. Overmiller said.
Dr. Overmiller presented several risk factors associated with falls.
• Medicines – certain medications may cause people to lose their balance.
• Medical conditions – neuropothy, poor hydration, etc.
• Age – not hearing or walking as well.
• Environment – canes, walkers, inappropriate footwear.
• Hazards – animals, children, things that may get in the walking path.
• Transfers – getting into and out of bed, going from a sitting to a standing position, and getting in and out of a vehicle.
“These are all types of things that can increase potential falls,” Dr. Overmiller said.
Psyisologicly there is a loss of confidence when a person falls as well as a loss of motivation to get up and move around. According to Dr. Overmiller, because of this, people get lonely and tend to isolate themselves, which leads to depression and anxiety, all adding up to fears of falling.
“If you are not up and moving, gravity is going to win,” Dr. Overmiller said. One way to prevent falling includes participating in an exercise program.
“We know that an exercise program will decrease your risk of falls by 54 percent,” Dr. Overmiller said.
Other ways to prevent falls, sugguested by Dr. Overmiller, include checking your eyes, watching your feet for neuropathy, watch out for side effects of medication, increase vitamin D, and check your home for risk-factors including loose floor mats or cords that may be a tripping hazard.
Dr. Overmiller’s wife, Sue, is a physical therapist that treats balance issues and works with people who have dizziness or other balance issues, such as vertigo.
“Balance is a reflex that happens at the bottom of the brain stem,” Sue said. “It’s not something we think about, the body does it automatically.”
Sue said balance is primarily in the ankles and is a combination of input from three sensory systems: vision, vestibular system, and the soles of the feet.
“We are visually dependant for balance,” Sue said. “As your vision decreases, with problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, or other vision problems, your balance is not as good. We don’t correct the vision, but we teach them to use the other systems to compensate.”
As part of the therapy Sue performs, she said she teaches people to be aware of their surroundings and to use their core muscles so they will be less likely to fall.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” Sue said.
Sue teaches balance classes at Epworth United Methodist Church once a week, as well as the local senior center in Ripley once a month, and the Sandyville Senior Center twice a month.
“The seniors love it,” Sue said. “When they first attend they are scared and it may seem hard, but you can see them improving every week.”
According to Sue, physical therapy for fall prevention is something Medicare will cover.
To get more information on physical therapy services, or to schedule an appontment, call WVU Medicine’s Jackson General Hospital at 304-373-1605.