By Brian Lowney
For Dorothy Coelho, the road to recovery has been a long and difficult journey.
Since 2010, the 81-year-old Fall River resident has suffered 10 falls, some so serious that she landed in the hospital for a few days.
For the past three years, Coelho has occasionally experienced dizziness, which contributed to balance issues. She's fallen off her rocking chair and fractured a few ribs by falling in the bathroom tub.
"It doesn't take much," she says, adding that simply tripping on a rug has sent her flying to the floor and resulted in a trip to the emergency room.
After a three-day hospitalization in August at Charlton Memorial Hospital, Coelho's doctor recommended physical therapy as part of her discharge plan.
"I've really made out well," Coelho continues, adding that after a few weeks of physical therapy, she feels more confident and her mobility has increased.
According to Ryan Peterson, a staff physical therapist in the Balance Disorders Program at Southcoast Rehabilitation Services, a part of Southcoast Health System, the first goal of Coelho's treatment plan was to alleviate her dizziness.
Since there are many causes of dizziness and vertigo, a sensation of whirling and loss of balance often caused by disease affecting the inner ear or the vestibular nerve, Coelho's physician ordered comprehensive diagnostic tests to determine the reason for the patient's falls and the best option to treat the condition.
Peterson explains that Coelho suffers from Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, a common form of vertigo that makes you feel like you're spinning. The condition is triggered by changes in the position of a person's head, such as tipping up or down or tossing in bed. Some people may also feel out of balance when they walk or suddenly stand.
The physical therapist notes that Coelho's vertigo was resolved in a few sessions by repositioning small microscopic crystals in the inner ear and restoring them to their proper place.
"That was specific to her case," Peterson emphasizes, noting that there are a variety of procedures that can be implemented to treat vertigo, depending on the cause of the condition.
Dizziness and balance problems are potential side effects of some medications, he adds.
Once Coelho's vertigo was successfully treated, and her balance was restored, she continued in physical therapy with a regimen of general strengthening exercises.
Peterson says people with vertigo are often fearful of falling, whether they've suffered past falls or near falls. These individuals often change their daily routines and frequently stop enjoying favorite activities, such as bowling and other forms of recreation.
"They become inactive and (weaker)," Peterson notes.
He adds that medical studies indicate that as people age, the risk of falling increases.
"I started falling in my 70s," Coelho says.
Peterson emphasizes that a fall is nothing to dismiss. Such accidents can result in traumatic brain injury, hip fractures, broken bones, depression and other medical conditions.
Caitlin Ponte, a second-year graduate student studying physical therapy at Simmons College in Boston and an intern at Southcoast Rehabilitation Services, underlines the importance of treating patients holistically, addressing both body and mind. "We try to get our patients to overcome their fears," she says, adding that mobility boosts confidence and self-esteem.
Ponte notes that one indicator that a person may be suffering from balance issues is "furniture walking" — holding onto chairs, walls, kitchen counters and household appliances as the individual navigates around the house. She says when this occurs, it's time for medical intervention.
Source: South Coast Today