How to reduce the risk of falls and harm
Although falls can happen to anyone, as you grow older, it can become more common and you are more likely to injure yourself. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to help prevent falls and minimise your injuries in the event that you do experience a fall.
Normal changes with ageing:
- Eyesight worsening
- Loss of feeling in lower limbs
- Loss of muscular strength and joint stiffness
- Slower reaction times
It is important to talk to your Doctor about any falls that you have experienced, as they may be signs of a new medical condition, muscle weakness, balance problems, medication side effects, or a combination of problems.
The most common health problems that may contribute to falls include:
- Postural hypotension
- Dementia / Alzheimers
- Poor nutrition
- Short term illnesses such as flu, infections and surgery
Osteoporosis is a condition resulting in thin and weak bones that may break or fracture easily if you have a fall. Prevention strategies include:
- Regular medical checkups.
- Keeping as active as possible.
- Eating nutritiously.
- Standing up slowly after sitting or lying down.
- If you suffer from Osteoporosis, you may be advised to take supplements such as calcium / vitamin D.
Remember that some causes of dizziness, memory loss and confusion are treatable.
Inactivity and unfitness tend to leave people with poorer balance and weaker muscles, leading to unsteadiness when mobilizing, increasing the risk of falling. As our bodies are designed to move, physical activity will keep you healthy and reduce the risk of falls. Physical activity will:
- Improve balance
- Improve muscle strength and flexibility
- Keep bones strong
- Help with sleeping problems
- Help control blood pressure, diabetes, and weight
With aging, feet can change shape and lose feeling and flexibility, changing the way that we walk and affecting our balance.
If you have problems with swollen or painful feet, tingling, pins and needles, or changes such as bunions, see your Doctor or a Podiatrist.
Poor footwear can also make it more likely that you will slip, trip or stumble, possibly leading to a fall.
Choose a shoe that combines comfort and a firm fit, and flat soles that grip.
Your home and garden should be as safe as possible. Common hazards include:
- Lack of maintenance of the home
- Electrical cords across walkways
- Poor lighting
- Items stored at a height
- Wearing loose fitting clothing that “catches”
- Wearing poor fitting “slippers”
- Spills and / or slippery surfaces
- Talcum powder on bathroom floors
- Spilled food or liquids
- Bed linen that has slipped to the floor
- Torn and / or stretched carpets
- Animals / pets
- Moss, slime and fallen leaves on outside paths
- Structural changes
- Steps into showers
- Cracked footpaths
- Bathroom and toilet doors - consider re-hanging them so they open outwards
- Consider adding rails to the bathroom and toilet
- Consider having soap holders recessed in the shower to avoid injury if you fall
- Consider hiring equipment such as toilet chairs
- Consider the height of lounge chairs
- Talk to your Doctor
- Don’t let pride stop you from asking for help
- Ask your family for assistance with home maintenance
- Know the limits of your capabilities
Risk of falls may be increased by medications as they may cause dizziness, drowsiness, confusion and unsteadiness. The medications for anxiety, depression and sleeping problems are the main causes of these complications.
It is important to communicate with your doctor about any side effects that you think these medications may be having, especially if you are starting new medications.
Always keep an up to date list of medications that you are taking, and present this to your Doctors at any appointments. Always follow the instructions printed on the medication label as well as any other instructions that your Doctor or Pharmacist has given to you.
Remember, your Doctor is the only one that should change your medications.
As well as allowing you to see obstacles and judge steps, your eyes assist you to keep your balance. It is important to have your eyesight and your glasses checked on a regular basis, or if you feel there is any change to your vision.
Try not to panic if you have a fall. You may feel shocked and a bit shaken – staying calm will help you gather your thoughts and remember what to do.
When you are calm, ask yourself:
- Can I get up? Am I hurt?
Do not get up quickly, instead roll onto your hands and knees and look for a stable piece of furniture to help you up. Hold onto the furniture to support you, and when you feel ready, slowly get up and then sit down and rest before you carry on with daily activity.
If you are hurt or can't get up
- If you are in Hospital, call for help or press your buzzer
- If you are at home, try to get someone’s attention by calling for help – if possible, crawl to a telephone and dial “000” to request an ambulance.
- Try to get as comfortable as you can while you are waiting, and reach something warm to cover you if you can.