One in three of us aged over 65 will fall in the next year – a major cause of accidental injury and admission to hospital. ‘Avoiding falls is key as they can impact on every aspect of your life,’ says Zoe Foan, Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist for Older People with Surrey Community Health.
Make your environment fall-friendly
So why do we become more vulnerable to stumbles and tumbles as we get older? ‘There are hundreds of reasons,’ she observes. ‘These can be intrinsic things related to you or someone you care for, extrinsic factors in your/their environment, or they can be linked to lifestyle.’
Intrinsic factors include a previous fall, health problems such as Parkinson’s or stroke, memory problems or poor eyesight. Extrinsic factors are things such as stairs, steps, rugs, low furniture, pets, an untidy living space or one that doesn’t take into account your needs.
Lifestyle factors can include a poor diet, meaning you don’t get the nutrients you need to stay strong, not drinking enough, or doing things that are more risky for you now you’re older such as climbing on chairs, tables or garage roofs to do jobs.
Audit home and garden
David Jones is a Consultant Nurse Older People at Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust. An expert on fall prevention, he adds, ‘Falls are multifactorial and loss of muscle strength (sarcopenia), dizziness, problems with balance and a host of other factors can all play a part. Medications can cause slowness and confusion, and alcohol can also slow reactions and make you unsteady on your feet.
‘If you or someone you care for is at risk, it’s worth going around your or your loved one’s home and garden, checking on hazards such as poor lighting, loose rugs, mats or wires.’
Use the services of an occupational therapist
Familiarity can make it easy to miss potential hazards, so getting an outside opinion can help. Some areas have a specialist Falls Service, a multi-disciplinary team that can assess the risk of falling and advise on steps to minimise this. This may include a home visit from an occupational therapist and/or physiotherapist who can check you and your home and advise on aids, such as special chairs, rails, stairlift or mobility aids such as walkers. You can access your local service via your GP.
Experts advise the following to reduce the risks:
Healthy diet and exercise
It’s important to stay strong and active. A physiotherapist can give you exercises tailored to your needs. It’s also important to eat well and stay hydrated. A healthy diet is essential for strength. It’s also vital to drink plenty of fluids – as we get older, we can’t rely on thirst to tell us that we’re getting dehydrated.
Safety tips for the home
Check that the most-used routes around your home – paths, corridors and stairs – are clear and well-lit, and items you need daily are easily accessible. Avoid taking risks. Ask a friend, relative or neighbour to change a light bulb or do DIY jobs. And think about your clothing, too. Choose well-fitting non-slip shoes and avoid backless slippers, high heels, trailing scarves or over-long garments.
Have a health screening
Have regular hearing and eyesight checks, and make sure your prescription for glasses and/or hearing aid is up to date. Ask your GP or pharmacist to check your medications, especially if you take more than four – some combinations affect balance, blood pressure and dizziness. Visits to a podiatrist can help you stay steady on your feet, while fear and lack of confidence can affect the risk of falling, so a mood assessment might be needed. If you worry about your memory, ask your GP about cognitive screening and/or assessment. Get your bones checked. Strong bones are vital to reduce the impact of a fall and the likelihood of another.
Don’t keep it to yourself. If you or someone you know has a fall, tell the GP.
Saga has published a 32-page guide to preventing falls, in association with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and Public Health England (PHE).
Click here to download a copy of Saga's Guide to Staying Steady.