In Australia, one in three people over 65 experience a fall each year. If you think that’s a worrying statistic, you’re right. Falls are the leading cause of hospitalisation for Australian seniors, with an average of seven days spent in hospital following a slip, trip or stumble.
While only one in five falls causes a serious injury, when they do happen, they can be devastating. 38% of injuries from falls are hip and thigh fractures and 20% are head injuries. In fact, more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, and falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury.
Why fall prevention is so important
With all of that said, it’s clear that falls are a major health concern for older Australians. Falls are often the catalyst for a loss of independence, and just one bad fall can set off a domino effect.
One incident turns into a fear of a falling, which then results in the person limiting their movements. Of course, this is counterproductive – avoiding activities means we become less active, and over time, we become weaker and increase our risk of falling.
What puts you at risk of falling?
It’s important to recognise that falls are not a ‘normal’ part of ageing and are preventable.
For over 65s, the biggest risk factors for avoidable falls are:
- Lower body weakness
- Mobility and balance issues
- Foot pain or bad footwear
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Vision problems
- Hazards around the home
Thankfully, there are a number of tips to help you reduce your risk of falling.
Tip 1: Build your balance
Balance means you can stand, walk, go up a flight of stairs or dance unattended.
Good balance relies on your brain communicating with your muscles, joints, eyes and ears. All of your systems need to work together so you can react quickly in a risky situation and stay stable.
The best way to avoid a bad fall is to build good balance. Some activities that help you do that include:
- Tai chi, yoga or aerobics
- Tennis or lawn bowls
- Standing on one leg and other balance exercises
It’s also important to address any foot issues that might be affecting your balance.
Talk to a podiatrist about any concerns you might have, and ensure you always wear supportive footwear that helps you maintain your balance.
Tip 2: Improve your strength
Muscle mass declines with age, so it’s important to maintain your strength as much as possible, particularly in your legs.
Making and maintaining the habit of being physically active is the best way to stay strong. But don’t stress – your strength training routine doesn’t have to be strenuous.
Some everyday strength training exercises include:
- Walking the dog
- Gardening (carrying potting mix and squatting to get down to soil level works your leg muscles)
- Cleaning the house
Tip 3: Give your body what it needs
A healthy diet and lifestyle ensures your body has all the nutrients and vitamins it needs to work as it should.
Calcium is especially important for bone development, while Vitamin D is needed to absorb the calcium. So make sure you eat plenty of calcium-rich foods, such as:
- Dairy products
- Leafy green vegetables
- Seafood and canned fish
Of course, when it comes to calcium any good intentions will go to waste if you’re Vitamin D deficient. The best way to fill your Vitamin D quota is sunlight – so make sure you get your fair share of fresh air and sunshine!
It goes without saying that being under the influence of alcohol increases your risk of a bad fall, so it’s also wise to only drink in moderation.
Tip 4: Improve your vision
Our vision tends to change as we get older. If things have gradually been declining, you might not notice that it’s time to make adjustments to your prescription or even get a prescription for the first time.
Since bad vision is a big risk factor for falls, make sure you have your eyes checked at least once a year.
To help improve your vision, you should:
- Always wear your glasses when you’re moving around
- Make sure your glasses fit properly
- Keep your glasses clean
- Use two pairs of glasses instead of multi-focal lenses (they can increase your risk of falls)
Tip 5: Remove hazards around the home
It’s important to make sure your environment is risk-free, too.
If you want to avoid falls at home, you need to remove any hazards. Some of the fixes are simple, and some might require a contractor – but if you’re serious about your wellbeing, it’s worth the investment.
To reduce your risk of falling at home, you should:
- Replace any loose or slippery tiles, especially in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry
- Keep loose cords and cables secure with electrical tape
- Install anti-slip surfaces in high traffic areas and stairways
- Rearrange furniture to give you more room to move around freely
- Keep all areas well illuminated, install motion sensors, use touch lamps or leave a light on at night
- Add hand rails to staircases or install ramps
- Add grab bars and non-slip mats in the shower or next to the toilet
Ask for help if you need it
If you have any mobility concerns, make sure you talk to a health professional, like your GP, physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
They will evaluate your risk and discuss strategies to help you improve your balance and strength.
Many over 65s have access to a government-funded Home Care Package, which provides extra assistance to help you maintain your independence in and out of home.
Home Care Packages can also cover allied health services, like a physiotherapist designing an exercise plan to reduce your risk of falls, or an occupational therapist coming in to assess your home's safety.
Brightwater's team of support workers and health professionals visit homes all over Perth, providing a range of services to keep your home, health and happiness in order.