How to Test for Patients at Risk for Falls

It’s the time of year when fall risks for patients increase, particularly those that live in climates prone to snow and ice. Regrettably, once someone has fallen and sustained an injury helping alleviate their risk of falling is added to treating the sometimes prohibitive injury (broken hip, for example).

There are several fall risk assessment tests used in physical therapy which can help pinpoint patients that are at a higher risk for falls and require help. Once trained in the application of the tests, none of the tests take long to administer, making them efficient and allowing for the focus to turn towards lowering the risk for falls within the same physical therapy session.

Timed Up and Go (TUG)

This simple test helps identify patients who are at higher risk for falls and may have gait problems. Using a timer, patients are seated in a straight-backed chair and told to get up without using their arms, walk across the floor about ten feet, turn and return to sit in the chair. Patients who don’t have balance problems can perform this test in less than 10 seconds. Conversely, patients with difficulties may require more than 30 seconds.

Get Up and Go Test

This test requires training in order to administer to patients, but this test helps assess a patient’s risk of falling and those who may have balance deficits. Taking only 5 minutes to administer, the Get up and Go Test measures dynamic balance along with gait speed and functional capacity for daily activities.

Berg Balance Scale (BBS)

The Berg Balance Scale test also requires training to administer and takes about 15-20 minutes. This test rates a patient’s ability to keep their balance while doing specific daily activity related tasks. The tests rate not only rates balance, but also lower and upper extremity strength.

Dynamic Gait Index

The Dynamic Gait Index takes about 15 minutes to administer and rates a patient’s likelihood of falling. Physical therapists are trained in 8 areas of gait in order to test the ability of a patient to modify their gait when changing tasks

Tinetti Performance Oriented Mobility Assessment (POMA)

This is another task-oriented test which can be used to rate a patient’s gait and balance. The 15 minute test is used to test a patient’s ability to maintain balance while performing daily activity tasks. A patient’s ability to balance is rated along with their lower and upper body strength.

After assessing a patient for their fall risk, treatment will focus on lowering that risk. Using tools such as gait trainers, balance pads and balls on balance platforms, along with strength building using active/passive trainers, patients will not only lower their risk of falls, but gain confidence in their abilities to ambulate through their day to day.

Winter time and the risk of falls can create isolation along with fear and an inability for patient’s to perform their necessary daily tasks. It’s important to identify those at higher risk for falls and encourage them to seek help so they can not only maintain their lifestyle, but continue to live independently.