Falls affect one in three people over the age of 65 and one in two people over 80. However that’s not to say falls are an inevitable part of aging; theres plenty of simple measures that can be taken to prevent or minimise the risk of falling.
Causes of falls can include loss of muscle strength, flexibility and slowed balance reactions which are all associated with ageing (but are all at least partially reversible with a bit of training!). However people also fall for other reasons… medical issues such as blood pressure problems, eyesight problems, dehydration, or simply tripping over in a cluttered house or not switching the light on when you get up to the toilet in the night are all things that can be addressed!
Consequences of falls can vary from bruises and knocked confidence to fractures and loss of independence, so let’s take a look at some common risk factors.
The biggest risk factor is a previous fall, so regardless of whether or not you injured yourself it worth mentioning it at your next GP or physiotherapy appointment so that steps can be taken to prevent it happening again.
Reducing the risk
Simple balance exercises can improve our reaction speed, helping us stay upright when reaching out or up for something. Try practicing your balance in the kitchen by standing on one leg each time you’re waiting for the kettle to boil – holding onto the kitchen worktop for support if you need to.
Strengthening exercises and regular physical activity help counteract muscle loss associated with aging which can be a whopping 30% decline between the age of 50 and 70! The government recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 x week (although this can be broken into smaller chunks if needed). Activities like gardening, housework and brisk walking all count!
Improve your bone density with weight bearing exercises, vitamin D supplements and a healthy balanced diet to reduce the risk of osteoporotic fractures if you do fall.
Get your GP to review your prescribed medications at least once a year. Some medications can cause dizziness or drops in blood pressure which can increase your risk of falling so talk to your GP if you think you are experiencing any of these side effects. Never stop a medication suddenly without discussing it with your GP first.
Eye sight can deteriorate with age, making it harder to spot any potential trip hazards so having an eye test once a year will ensure you have the correct lens prescription. The optician will also check for glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Eye tests are also free for the over 60’s, so no excuses!
Limit your alcohol intake! It’s well known that alcohol makes you unsteady on your feet at any age but it becomes harder for our bodies to metabolise alcohol as we age, increasing the risk of falling.
Switch the lights on if you are getting up to go to the loo in the night and try and keep your house free of clutter, tacking down loose rugs to minimise trip hazards.
Install grab rails in the bathroom and by any outdoor steps to give you more confidence getting in and out.
Use walking aids such as a stick, rollator frame or even a hiking pole to help with balance when you’re out and about and ensure that you have comfortable well-fitting shoes or slippers.
Top 5 simple exercises to prevent falls
- Heel raises – Hold onto a support and push up onto your tiptoes then lower back down. Repeat 10 times.
- Toe raises – Hold onto a support and lift your toes off the floor, without sticking your bottom out! Repeat 10 times.
- Sit to stand – Sit on the edge of a chair and try to stand up without using your arms. Sit back down slowly, make sure you can feel the chair behind you. Repeat 10 times.
- One leg stand – practice your balance on each leg, hold onto a support if you need to. Hold for 10secs and repeat on both legs 3 times.
- Side stepping – hold onto a support and take a step to the side and then back to the middle and step to the other side. Repeat 10 times in each direction.
You can have a look at these exercises in a special booklet produced by Saga & The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists – Get Up & Go Exercises, 6 exercises to help you stay steady. There is also another great informative booklet which helps educate about and prevent falls – Get Up & Go, A Guide To Staying Steady. If you’f like a copy of this or the exercises, just pop into the clinic.