Reduce Your Risks of Falls After Stroke


A Presentation Given to Stroke Support Association

On two consecutive Tuesdays (February 25 and March 3, 2020), Gretchen Phillips, a support group facilitator, teacher of Matter of Balance at Leisure World, and retired social worker, gave a two-part presentation on reducing falls after stroke to the members of Stroke Support Association (SSA) in Long Beach. Michelle Chung, a physical therapist at Long Beach Memorial and an SSA Board member, joined in the talk.

Stroke survivors are at high risk of falls due to loss of control over an affected arm or leg, compromised balance, and cognitive impairment. According to the American Stroke Association, “…up to 73% of stroke survivors experience a fall in the first six months after discharge home,” and the threat can remain long afterward. Physical therapy is crucial, but so is learning how to prevent falls. Taking charge of fall prevention is an important part of recovery from stroke.

Gretchen reported that most falls happen during routine activities, often at home. The cause of falls is multifactorial, encompassing issues of sensation, strength, balance, and whether the person is distracted at the time of the occurrence.

Concerns about falls can cause people to restrict their activities, which can result in significant losses and increased risk of falls. “It’s important to see how changes can be made to reframe negative thoughts to positive attitudes, as first steps to fall prevention,” Gretchen said. As an example, limited thinking might say “I’m generally nervous when I walk.” By taking steps to get exercise or change a habit, this could be reframed as “I’m confident when I walk because I’ve taken steps to prevent falls, such as wearing more appropriate shoes, engaging in regular exercise, or being more mindful.”

Asking for help is another tool that can improve safety and contribute to one’s ability to remain as independent as possible.  Michelle, who has much experience with the risk of falls in her patients, said: “I can’t stress enough the importance of alerting your health care provider—your doctor, nurse, physical therapist, or social worker–when you’ve had a fall because only then can he or she work with you to determine the causes of your fall and the corrective measures that can be taken.” Gretchen added, “Being assertive can increase one’s sense of control and reduce feelings of helplessness.”

Gretchen and Michelle demonstrated several exercises and stretches that can be practiced in order to build flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance, all in the service of preventing falls. They also acted out ways to get up from a fall, such as how to best sit to enable pulling up to standing using a chair.

Gretchen provided hand-outs to the group, including “Resources for Fall Prevention” and “Fall Prevention: Putting It All Together—Getting Up and Down Safely.”

Stroke Support Association offers separate support groups for stroke survivors and caregivers every Tuesday, from 10:00-11:30 AM, 3759 Orange Ave., Long Beach.

Betsy Hardiman

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