The estimated number of hospital visits for older Australians due to falls is over 85,000 per year. Research suggests that at least one third of people aged 65 and above fall at least once a year. The good news is that falls are not an inevitable part of getting older. Fortunately many falls can be prevented and the risk of injury reduced. Possible causes of falls include environmental, chronic health condition, health impairments, illness and medications.
Possible outcomes after experiencing a fall are:
- Hip and wrist fractures
- Hip and shoulder dislocations
- Head injuries and abrasions
- Bruising and sprains
- Loss of confidence and restriction of daily activities
The following 4 tips will help you to reduce the risk of falling.
- Begin a regular exercise program.
Exercise is one of the most important ways to lower the chances of falling. Lack of exercise can lead to weak legs and this increases the chances of falling. Exercise can improve balance, strength and flexibility. Exercise programs such as tai chi have proven to be helpful. Always seek medical advice prior to commencing a new exercise program.
- Keep vision sharp.
Poor vision can make it harder to get around safely. Older adults should have their eyes checked every year and wear glasses or contact lenses with the correct prescription strength to ensure they are seeing clearly.
- Review your medicines.
Have a doctor or pharmacist review all the medicines taken, even over-the-counter medicines. As we get older, the way medicines work in our body can change. Some medicines or combinations of medicines can cause dizziness or drowsiness which can cause falls.
- Eliminate tripping and slipping hazards around the house and garden.
To eliminate hazards at home, a home safety check should be undertaken to help identify potential fall hazards.
Here are some tips to prevent falls INSIDE of the home:
- Consider altering the furniture layout to maximise the width of walkways through the house
- Install grab rails in the bathroom and toilet
- Make sure the lighting is adequate in each room
- Consider adding more light switches to make it easier to light rooms eg. A light at each end of the staircase, a light switch next to the bed
- Make sure hallways, corridors and walkways are kept clear of clutter
- Repair or replace carpets with worn areas, holes or loose threads
- Ensure that rugs, mats and carpets are in good order with no tears or fraying edges.
- Consider using adhesive strips to secure rugs and mats
- Move everyday items to lower, more accessible cupboards and shelves
- Check that internal doors can be opened and closed properly, preferably without locks
- Check that external doors can be locked and unlocked easily and are working properly
Here are some tips to prevent falls OUTSIDE of the home:
- Steps and paths are well-lit and swept regularly
- Mark the leading edge of outside steps with white paint or fluorescent grip tape so they are easy to see
- Repair broken, uneven or cracked paths and patios
- Remove mosses, fungi and lichen that make garden paths slippery when wet
It is also important to consider home safety to reduce the risk of falls. Here’s a hand checklist.
- Does the house contain furniture that protrudes into walkways?
- Are there throw rugs on the floor?
- Are there papers, books or other objects on the floor?
- Does the house have any broken or uneven stairs?
- Does the house have any loose or broken handrails?
- Are there things that are used every day stored in hard to reach places? eg. High cupboards
- Are the surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom likely to become slippery when wet?
- Is there adequate lighting in each room?
- Does the bathroom and toilet contain grab bars to assist users?
- Is there an easy to reach light next to the bed?
In summary here’s what is important to consider when trying to reduce the risk falls:
- Falls are a major cause of injury for older people
- There are many possible causes of falls in older people
- Exercising can help maintain strength and balance
- Making changes around the home can remove tripping hazards and help avoid falls
- Personal alert systems or services can give older people independence and peace of mind General tips to avoid falls
- Make sure shoes are comfortable and fit well. They should be wide enough in the toe area, have non-slip soles and low or no heels
- Visit podiatrist regularly to minimise foot problems
- Have your eyes tested annually to monitor any changes
- Make sure that chairs and beds are sturdy and easy to get in and out of, and that tables and benches do not have sharp corners
- Get up slowly after sitting or lying down
- Wipe up spills immediately
- Store and use medications safely
- To reduce the risk of falling during an emergency, ensure that your house has working smoke alarms and a fire blanket or extinguisher that is within easy reach
- Wear sunglasses and a hat outdoors to reduce sun glare
If you do have a fall, here’s what to do:
- It‘s important not to panic, try to remain calm.
- If your telephone is in easy reach, phone for help. Call your local doctor or 000.
- Try to determine whether you are able to try and get up yourself If you are able to move:
- Before trying to stand, roll over onto your stomach and get into a crawling position
- Crawl to a place that contains a stable/solid piece of furniture ie. Couch, chair or coffee table
- Try rising to a kneeling position
- Use the sturdy furniture to push yourself up enough to sit on the furniture If you are unable to get yourself up
- Use your personal alarm, if you have one
- If you don’t have a personal alarm, try to find a different method of making a loud noise eg. Something to tap on the window, or bang on a piece of furniture
- If you are unable to raise the alarm, try to find something that may keep you warm (blanket, cushion, clothing, towel)
- Have a rest before trying again to raise the alarm. After having a fall it is always a good idea to have an assessment done by your doctor. Even if you don’t think you have sustained an injury. The doctor can ensure no internal damage has occurred and try to ascertain whether the cause of the fall was related to medication.