Better Balance

At the James and Sharon Maida Geriatrics Institute, physical therapy can help seniors avoid falls.

Every year, more than one in four people over age 65 falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, one out of five falls leads to an injury, such as broken bones. Falls can even be fatal; deaths caused by falls increased by 30 percent among older adults between 2007 and 2016, according to the CDC. One of the main risk factors is trouble with balance. At the James and Sharon Maida Geriatrics Institute at Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus (MMCSC), the Rehabilitation Services Department—composed of a team of physical, occupational, speech and audiology therapists—treats patients with balance problems.

Improving strength and flexibility

 There are several possible causes of balance problems in seniors: arthritis, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (a common cause of vertigo, or dizziness), peripheral vascular disease, which decreases blood flow to the legs and can affect balance, stroke or a neurological problem. Patients with dizziness or balance problems may undergo coordination, reflex and sensation tests to determine muscle strength and range of motion.

With physical therapy (PT), the goals are to strengthen the pelvic, abdominal and hip muscles, which affect balance. Exercises may include strength training using resistance bands and walking training (some people pick up bad habits due to pain and weakness and need to relearn how to walk). “If a person doesn’t have core strength, he or she may walk robotically,” says David Terlizzi, PT, DPT, MPA, Director of Rehabilitation at MMCSC.

“The person might forget how to move his or her hips and pelvis, so he or she doesn’t get the necessary pelvic rotation during walking.” Some people—especially men—hunch forward, which throws off their center of gravity. To combat this, PTs teach posture strengthening exercises, in which a patient stands against a wall and stretches in front of a mirror. Terlizzi’s team also helps patients improve their flexibility and range of motion.

Patients with balance problems typically visit the rehab center twice a week for 12 to 16 visits. Staying active is important during recovery, but if you exercise at a gym, it’s important to bring a family member or friend with you in case you lose your balance. To improve overall strength and balance, Terlizzi advises walking, swimming, Tai Chi and yoga classes geared toward seniors.

“It’s important to do these exercises consistently to maintain range of motion and prevent falls,” he says.

Comprehensive care for seniors

At the James and Sharon Maida Geriatrics Institute, a multidisciplinary team of providers—geriatricians, nurses, social workers, case managers, pharmacists, health educators and rehabilitation therapists—cares for patients 65 and older. Both inpatient and outpatient services are offered at one convenient location. Here are some of the Institute’s unique features:

  • The Geriatric Emergency Medicine (GEM) Unit—which is separate from the rest of the Emergency Department—specializes in caring for older patients. GEM provides a quiet and safe healing environment with subdued lighting, lower beds and slip-resistant floors. The unit’s social workers, case managers and nurses are trained in the care of geriatric patients. Patients can have a one-on-one consultation with a pharmacist about their medications.
  • The Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Unit is an inpatient unit for patients ages 65 and older. It has spacious single rooms with private bathrooms, non-skid floors, bedside recliners and family gathering areas.
  • The Rehabilitation Services Department helps patients return to their daily activities quickly.
  • Outpatient providers at the Institute offer consultative services as well as primary care for seniors.
  • The Institute provides many support groups and health education classes on topics such as bereavement, caregiving and more. (See “Support for Caregivers.”)
  • The free Better Health Senior Membership Program is available to people ages 55 and older. Members have access to health and wellness events, including question-and-answer sessions with a registered dietitian, physician lectures, exercise classes like yoga and Tai Chi, concerts and luncheons.

To become a Better Health member, call 888.726.2362.

Support for caregivers

  • Tuesdays, 12 to 2 p.m.
  • Wednesdays, 12:15 to 2:15 p.m.
  • Thursdays, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. (twice a month)

Free counseling and support groups are available to individuals and families caring for an Ocean County resident over age 60 through a grant from the Ocean County Office of Senior Services.

To register, call Kathleen Holahan, MSW, LCSW, at 732.730.9112. All programs are held at Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus, 600 River Ave., 3rd floor conference room in Lakewood.

For more information on the James and Sharon Maida Geriatrics Institute and its services, call 732.886.4700.