Preventing falls as we get older is so important. If you can reduce your risk factors, you are likely to be able to remain independent for longer (and as a bonus, you are also less likely to get injured!).
If you are a senior or you care for someone who is elderly, here are some facts about falls you should know – plus some helpful tips to help you prevent falls at home.
Why is fall prevention important as you age?
Although anyone at any age can have a fall, the risks of falling increase as we get older and our bodies change. Sometimes these changes happen slowly over many years. Falling can also be more dangerous for seniors, as they are more likely to cause injury and permanent damage.
We must be vigilant and aware of these changes to protect ourselves. You can ask friends and family if they have noticed any changes in you, and for help to do things that may now place you at risk of falling. It is important not to let your pride stop you from asking for help. It is better to have asked for help and not fallen, than to fall and suffer the consequences.
It is also important not to just dismiss falls as part of ageing. If you do experience one, check if there are underlying factors that may have led you to having a fall. Make sure you discuss any falls you have with your doctor, they can help you come up with a plan so that you are less likely to fall again.
Risk factors that contribute to falls include:
- Declining eyesight
- General body deterioration in our muscles and joints
- Decreased balance
- Decreased sensation in our feet or legs
- Difficulty concentrating on multiple things
- Slower reaction times
- Medicines that help us with certain issues may also have the side effects of drowsiness, unsteadiness or confusion – all which can lead to a higher chance of falls.
- Certain health conditions, including (but not limited to) stroke, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, dementia, low blood pressure and osteoporosis.
How to help reduce your risk of falling
Here are some simple steps you can take to help reduce your risk of falling, especially around the home.
Get regular check-ups with your GP – have regular check-ups with your doctor to discuss your health issues and ensure they are managed well; this includes any medicines you may be taking.
Keep active! When you are active it reduces your risk of falling. This is because staying fit means your muscles remain stronger, your balance is better, and your joins are less stiff.
Eat well– by ensuring that your nutrition is enough for what your body needs, you can remain strong and healthy, which helps reduce your risk of falling.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated – this is important, particularly when the weather is warm, as dehydration has been shown to increase the risk of falls in older adults.
Move in a slow, steady and purposeful manner. This helps to ensure you are safe, particularly when you get up from a sitting or lying position.
Chat to a physiotherapist. They can provide you with specific exercises and also advise if a walking aid (a walking stick or frame) may assist you in staying safe.
Keeping a check on your eyes and their health. Our eyes slowly decline from the age of 40, leaving us prone to misjudging distance and depth. The changes in our eyes also mean our eyes take longer to adjust to light changes, like darkness and glare.
Wear appropriate footwear – Choose firm, comfortable and flat shoes that have good grip on their soles. Do not walk in poorly fitted slippers or in socks. If you suffer from painful, tingly, desensitised or swollen feet, see a doctor to get a referral to a podiatrist who can help you with many feet issues.
Are you worried about falling?
It’s understandable that you might be worried about falling, especially if you have previously suffered a bad fall.
Some things you can do to help are:
- Chat to your doctor, a clinical psychologist or counsellor about your worries; they are wonderful professionals who can help you with your concerns.
- Talk to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist about the possibly of using a walking aid. It may only be for a short time until you get your strength or confidence back.
- Improve your strength and fitness by meeting with a physio, an accredited exercise physiologist or accredited fitness instructor.
- Improve the safety of your home and garden to make you feel more confident in your environment. You can remove trip hazards like cords and mats, ensure you have sufficient lighting in your home, install rails and non-slip mats, and remove items that can throw shadows across paths outside, as this makes it harder to see trip hazards.
- Having an emergency plan for if you do fall is important, as this will ensure you get the help that you need. Consider how you will raise the alarm if you do have a fall (e.g. carry a mobile phone, cordless phone, portable alarm or auto dialler with you); have an arrangement with a family member or friend to call you at a certain time each day so they can check you are fine; leave a set of spare keys with someone or in a lockbox outside
- Learn how to safely get off the floor if you fall. The diagram below, from the WA Department of Health, is helpful.