Falls preventionSep 12, 2022
Nearly 1 in 3 older Australians have experienced a fall in the past 12 months. Of these, 1 in 5 required hospitalisation. Importantly, nearly 2 out of 3 falls happen in and around the home. Most falls which occur can be prevented with increasing physical activity levels and eliminating hazards.
What may cause a fall?
In older people falls occur much more commonly around the home involving hazards. Some of these may include poor lighting, uneven surfaces, wet or slippery surfaces, unsafe footwear such as slippers and tripping over obstacles like electrical cords or mats.
Internal factors may also increase our risk of falls. Reduced leg strength can cause your feet to drag or hit a step. Reduced reaction times can make recovering from a slip, trip or stumble more difficult and poor balance can make you more unsteady on your feet.
Other factors which may cause a fall are low blood pressure or low blood sugar levels causing someone to become dizzy. Some medications can impair balance, particularly those for managing mental health. Certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and arthritis diminish reaction time and potentially normal walking pattern, increasing risk of falls.
What are the complications with falls?
Falls may cause injury such as sprains, strains and more seriously fractures. Older Australians commonly present with osteoporosis, a condition which makes the bones brittle and at a much higher risk of fracture. The thigh bone is the most common fracture site from a fall followed by the knee, shoulder and wrists. While not all falls lead to an injury, they often trigger a loss in confidence, reducing engagement in physical activity and intensifying an ongoing fear of falling. This in turn leads to further reductions in balance and muscle strength.
Reduced physical activity levels are also a risk factor for numerous chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health conditions. These can also negatively impact your falls risk.
How can you reduce the risk of falls?
The first things to do to minimise the risk of falls are to identify and remove hazards as mentioned before. This may include wearing appropriate shoes, adjusting power cords and eliminating trip hazards.
Increasing your physical activity levels and completing specific exercises to strengthen your legs and improve balance have been shown to reduce rates of falls. Specifically leg, hip and core strengthening exercises paired with safe completion of balance exercises. It is important to complete these exercises in a safe environment and have balance support if you are completing them in a standing posture. You may have a chair behind you and in front of you to hold onto in case you lose balance.
Who can help?
Your GP is a valuable resource in determining if your medication or other health conditions may be impacting your risk of falls. If these are cleared, increasing physical activity levels in a progressive manner is important to manage falls risk. An exercise physiologist or physiotherapist, such as the experienced team at Macarthur Physiotherapy, are highly trained professionals in the assessment of falls risk and providing exercises to reduce their occurrence.
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