Stay independent – Falls prevention

As we age we are more likely to fall. This year one in every three persons over 65 years old will have a fall and one in every two persons over 80 will have a fall. Falls and broken bones are a major reason for older persons to lose their independence. But falls are not inevitable and there is much that you can do to reduce your chance of having a fall.

What causes falls?
There are many factors that increase the chance of falls for older persons compared with younger persons. These range from reduced muscle tone and balance to medicines they are taking. As we age we are more likely to be taking more medicines. If you are given a new medicine and it makes you feel dizzy or unsteady; talk to your doctor about alternatives.

Things to be aware of around the home that contribute to falls include:

  • Loose rugs
  • Poor lighting – as we age we need more light to see clearly
  • Over reaching to get things in high cupboards
  • Electric cords across places that you walk
  • Wearing socks around inside

What can you do to reduce your chance of having a fall?
In the bathroom make sure you use a non-slip mat in the shower. If you feel unsteady in the shower install a hand rail or put a plastic chair in the shower so you can shower sitting down.

For older persons sometimes it is necessary to get to the toilet in a hurry. This can result in a fall. Be sure to empty your bladder regularly so there is no need to rush to the toilet. Make sure the way to the toilet is clear of hazards that might cause you to trip. If necessary wear incontinence pads as a backup in case you cannot get to the toilet in time.

When you wake up; get up slowly. Allow time for your blood pressure to adjust to you being upright by sitting on the edge of the bed for a while before you stand up. If you have to get up in the night make sure you have a light you can turn on before hopping out of bed.

Staying active is a major factor. Having stronger muscles improves your chances of staying upright. There are classes for improving muscle tone and balance. Some are provided through District Health Boards or ACC and may be subsidised or free. They are also fun and social.

Doctors often prescribe Vitamin D capsules. These can help strengthen bones and muscles. Often it is just one capsule per month. Most people find it easiest to remember if you take it the first week of each month e.g. on the 1st of the month.

Other tips include:

  • Declutter your house so you can easy walk around without bumping into things.
  • Get a cordless phone and keep it close by. That way you won’t try running to get the phone.
  • Ensure you have a sturdy step ladder to reach things in high cupboards
  • Update your glasses when you need to. 
  • If you have bifocal or graduated lens and you find they make you feel unsteady on your feet; get something different.
  • Wear sensible shoes. Shoes need to be comfortable with non-slip soles to help you to stay steady on your feet.
  • Inside you can wear slippers if they support your feet and have nonslip soles.
  • Get dressed sitting down. None of this standing on one leg while trying to put on your socks.

If you have already had a fall there is increased likelihood of another fall, so take action now to improve your muscle tone and balance. Can you get out of a chair without using your hands to push you up? If not you need to start now, find an exercise class. Getting active and staying active is your best defence. There is a website called ‘Live Stronger for Longer’ that can help you find an exercise class near you, and has lots of other advice to make sure your life is not affected by falls.

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