Falls are common as we get older, with statistics showing one in three people over the age of 65 will suffer a fall at some point. While not all of these falls are serious, on average around one in 10 falls will lead to a serious injury, such as a fracture, break or brain injury. Even if not serious, falls can lead to significant loss of function, loss of confidence, restriction of activity and lower quality of life.
What can cause a fall?
As we age, we experience a natural decline in balance, stability, vision and strength, all of which are important in helping us stay on our feet. And due to this change in our physical abilities, we are often unable to deal with the demands of the environment or our activities. As well, certain chronic medical conditions and medications can also increase the risk of a fall. Safety hazards in the home or other places (such as slippery floors or loose rugs) can also cause trips and falls.
There are certain signs that your balance is not what it should be – some of these include:
- You have trouble standing up or sitting down
- You find yourself holding onto walls or furniture to get around
- You can’t stand on one leg for any length of time
What to do following a fall
If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer a fall, don’t just brush it off. Of course, if your fall is very serious, you’ll need to get immediate medical attention. If you can’t get up and are in a lot of pain, call 000 for help, or get someone to do it for you.
If your fall has just shocked rather than seriously injured you, still don’t try and get up immediately. A fall can be very upsetting, so stay on the ground for a few minutes and take some deep breaths to calm yourself down. Do a quick mental inventory of your body to see if you feel any pain anywhere. Once you’re a little calmer, roll onto your side, then onto your hands and knees and then use anything sturdy nearby to help you stand, if you think you can get up safely without needing help. Get yourself to the nearest chair or seat ad sit down for a while in a comfortable position while you get completely calm.
If you’ve suffered a fall, even if you haven’t been seriously injured, you should always tell your doctor about it. This can help alert your doctor to any impending medical problems, or problems with your medication that can be easily corrected. Your doctor is also the best person to recommend strategies to help prevent future falls, such as the use of a walking aid, or some physical therapy.
How can I decrease my chances of experiencing a fall?
The good news is that many falls can be prevented. Here are some useful strategies you can try to reduce your risk of having a fall.
Stay physically active
Being as physically active as possible is one of the most effective long-term strategies in fall prevention. The link between exercise and decreased falls is well documented. Improving both your leg strength and balance are extremely effective in preventing falls. Staying physically active will improve your muscle strength, mobility, coordination, balance and control, and will also slow bone loss from osteoporosis. Consult an exercise physiologist if you need help with an exercise program.
Exercise is the hero in the fight against not only falls, but also many other diseases – find out more here.
Limit your alcohol intake
Too much alcohol impacts your balance and slows down your reflexes and is a cause factor in many preventable falls. Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one standard drink a day.
See your doctor
Get advice on whether any medications you are on are likely to increase the risk of a fall. If so, discover exactly what the side effects are (such as dizziness or tiredness) and how best you can manage them. Ask if it’s possible to switch medications to something without those side effects.
Wear non-slip shoes
It can be all too easy to slip into the habit of wearing cosy slippers or socks around the house – but this is not ideal when it comes to fall prevention. Unsupportive sandals, high heels or thongs are also more likely to get caught on things and cause falls. Instead, wear comfortable and supportive but non-slip footwear when you’re walking around the house, and save the socks for bed!
Monitor your eyesight
Have both your hearing and eyesight tested on a regular basis, to make sure you stay on top of any small changes to your vision. And, if you need glasses or contacts to safely get around – make sure you’re always wearing them!
Get plenty of sleep
You’re more prone to falling when you’re tired, so ensure you always get plenty of sleep.
Click here to discover some handy tips for getting a better night’s sleep for older adults.
Stand up slowly
Standing up too quickly can cause rapid drops in your blood pressure that can seriously affect your balance. Take your time standing up to allow your body to adjust to the change in position, and avoid rushing anything.
Use a walking device if necessary
If you’ve been told a walking aid would be helpful, make sure you use it. Items such as walking sticks or walkers can help you feel more secure, stable and confident in getting around.
Try occupational therapy
Occupational therapy trains and educates clients on practical ways to reduce or prevent falls, and can help you reduce hazards in the home. This is best for older people at a high risk of falls, such as those who have recently come out of hospital, or have a visual impairment.
Get some more vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements are a simple but effective strategy to help prevent falls and fractures. Talk to your doctor about whether this is a good idea for you and how much you are required to take.
Remove home hazards
Make your home safer by examining the environment closely for any fall hazards, such as loose floorboards or carpets, cords on the floor or furniture (such as coffee tables or plant stands) in the middle of high traffic areas. Fix or remove these hazards, and make sure items you use regularly are stored within easy reach, and you immediately clean up spilled liquids or food. Bright lights will also help you to see better and avoid any hazards.
Click here to discover more practical ways to fall-proof your home.
Consider getting some help in the home
Home care services, where a carer comes into your home to help with tasks such as personal care, housework and gardening, might also help reduce your chance of suffering a fall. Click here to find out about Finley Regional Care’s Complete Care home care packages.
Falls are not an inevitable part of ageing – and investing in these strategies will go a long way towards helping you avoid falls and stay independent and active.