Published on October 01, 2013

Nazareth Hospital helps prevent falls with balance retraining

Barry GittlemanStuart A. Scherr, MD, director of Nazareth’s Balance Program, uses a combination of traditional physical therapy and the latest technology to lower the risk of accidents.

Barry Gittleman was shaving one morning this past June when he noticed he couldn’t coordinate the movements of his right hand with his face. Coming from a family with many medical professionals, he knew something was wrong, but he didn’t panic. Instead, Barry calmly took two baby aspirin and drove himself to the hospital, where he was told he had experienced a mini-stroke, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Doctors gave Barry immediate treatment with clot-busting drug; those drugs helped avert a bigger disaster.

But as the 71-year-old Philadelphia resident recovered, he realized his balance had been affected by the mini-stroke, making him feel unsteady on his feet.

Barry is glad he was then referred to the Balance Program at Nazareth Hospital’s Outpatient Center for Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation and Balance. Doctors and physical therapists at the Balance Program help reduce patients’ risk of falling using a combination of traditional physical therapy and the latest technology available, such as computer-based evaluation and retraining technology.

Barry, a father and grandfather, was more than ready to make the commitment to get his balance back.

“I just felt I had to make myself steady and keep my balance up to par so I can lead a productive life,” he says. “The program strengthens your legs and your mind and makes you more aware of your movements. I’ve really improved a lot.”

Innovative ‘Balance Master’ Assesses Strength, Mobility

Patients referred to Nazareth’s Balance Program have experienced a variety of conditions predisposing them to dangerous falls, which can lead to disability and even death. Risk factors that can lead to falls include use of certain medications, leg weakness, dizziness, trauma, ear infections, neck pain or neurologic disorders.

Once patients arrive at the center, the evaluation process begins with a balance questionnaire and an assessment on the “Balance Master,” equipment with a mobile computer system. The machine allows staff members to quantify patients’ stability, control of body movements in different visual conditions and their ability to vary quick or slow movement.

“A therapist and I go over all the initial assessments and develop an individual plan of care to address each patient’s deficits and improve their coordination,” explains Stuart A. Scherr, MD, director of Nazareth’s Balance Program. “We set up a number of tasks for them to practice, increasing task difficulty as sessions go on. It’s about a three-month process, assessing them midway through and then at the end.”

A “balance therapy” plan may consist of tasks such as stretches to improve joint and neck mobility; endurance training such as walking; and practicing head movements while the body is either moving or stationary.

A 70 percent improvement for patients

About two dozen patients completed the Balance Program in its first year; those patients reported an average 70 percent improvement in their ability to feel steady while walking and moving about, Dr. Scherr is happy to report.

Barry is one of those pleased patients: He has noticed an 80 percent improvement in his abilities after just two months in the program, and he has another month to go. He feels more confident when he walks, noticing that he no longer sways while doing so—something he feared would lead to a fall.

“Not all hospitals offer this service, this rebuilding process,” he says of Nazareth’s healthcare team. “They’re a very talented, nice group of professionals with a very caring attitude. I feel very lucky.”