HEALTH WATCH: Balance screenings helping to prevent falls

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The Foundation Health Partners and the Rehabilitation Services Department at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, have been working together to help residents of Fairbanks reduce the number of falls by bringing awareness and free screenings to the community.

Physical Therapist Cheryl Sackett and others in the rehabilitation department have stated there is a need for this service in Fairbanks, and around the nation.

"We've noticed throughout the years a lot of people would be hospitalized due to falls at home or outside. That’s where this blossomed,” said Sackett.

She began doing research and found that falls are a nation-wide problem. Researchers found that falls affect the aging community, by leading to sky-rocketing medical bills and has residual effects on quality of life.

"So I started a group here. Therapists and PTA's and we all kind of collaborated and established this balance screening. We presented it to the board and they graciously agreed to allow us to do this screening free to the community, which I was thrilled because I wanted to give back to the community," she said.

The Screening program looks at several systems of the body. Sackett emphasized that balance is like a catch all phrase and coordinated movements in the human body are very complex.

She also stated that balance is correlated directly to vision and the perception of objects and self. The somatic sensory region is also affected, which is the area in the body that interprets your position on surfaces.

"As we age we tend to not be as active as we should be and we start losing range of motion so our posture starts changing,” said Sackett. She went on to add the importance of posture and that as people age they lose flexibility in muscles.

“The tighter they get the less ability they have to react and to respond, so on top of those systems we also have riding reactions, so our body responds as we start to lose our balance," she said.

She said after looking over the data, they found there was enough there to support that the balance screening can help to prevent falls. After determining how people rate in these tests, this will give the therapists and the client more evidence to see if they are more or less predisposed to falling and address the issues and deficits.

"So what's nice is that we do the screening, we provide all the test results and then we give it to that client or that person and the person can take it to their physician, and they can choose wherever they want to go. This is Just a service to help people to not only recognize the subtle changes as we age," said Sackett.

The Balance screening is offered to ambulatory residents 55 years old and older. Doctors note is not required. For more information or to register contact Foundation Health Partners at 907-458-5670