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Take Steps To Prevent Falls After A Stroke

October 10, 2011

According to a University of Southern California study released at the recent Canadian Stroke Congress, nearly 60 percent of people who have a stroke experience one or more falls afterwards. Most of these falls happen in their own homes and some cause serious injuries. To protect patients and keep them safe from injury, better methods of identifying who is at risk of falling and taking proactive measures such as assessments to create fall-proof homes, are needed, says USC professor Julie Tilson.

Ironically, the greatest risk comes when people are resuming their daily routines and regaining self-confidence, according to the study, which involved 408 people from 2 to 12 months after their stroke. "As patients start to recover and gain mobility, the risk for falls may actually increase," Professor Tilson says. "As they become more active, they are more likely to fall."

Over 70 percent of falls were in the home and three-quarters of those who fell were unable to get up afterward. Of those who fell, 10 percent experienced serious injury, from loss of consciousness to broken bones. Professor Tilson says that it is crucial that people receive post-stroke rehabilitation to test their balance and to learn exercises and techniques to prevent falls.

The study was part of the Locomotor Experience Applied Post Stroke (LEAPS) study, funded by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which investigated the impact of different physical therapy treatments for improving people's ability to walk after a stroke. "Research tells us that balance can be tested safely and new techniques for fall prevention are being developed by researchers in Canada that should be adopted as soon as possible," says Dr. Mark Bayley of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

"Specialized rehabilitation can substantially improve how well a patient recovers after a stroke," says Dr. Antoine Hakim, CEO and Scientific Director of the Canadian Stroke Network. "Given the potential impact that appropriate rehabilitation can have, gaps in care need to be addressed to ensure all patients have access to appropriate rehabilitation.'' Dr. Michael Hill from the Heart and Stroke Foundation encourages people who have strokes and their families to be actively involved with the stroke team in assessing needs and planning their rehab programs. "Rehabilitation after hospital is an important part of the road to recovery and should be individualized for each case," he says. "Building up physical activity levels, when ready, can also enhance balance and help prevent falls." He recommends that patients and caregivers also speak to their stroke team about what changes could be made to make their homes more safe and accessible.

To better identify home hazards, read the Parentgiving article, Promoting Home Safety and Preventing Falls.