Preventing falls as you age
It’s true that falls can happen to anyone at any time, even the young and athletic.
However as you grow older falls can become more common and it is more likely you will injure yourself.
Many older people fall in and around the home, with falls being particularly common in aged care homes. If you have a serious injury it can lead to a change in where you live.
So how can help prevent falls and minimise your injuries if you do fall?
Knowing your risk factors and taking a few precautions is a good start.
Eating healthy and nutritious food
Drinking enough fluids
Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, with regular exercise to prevent your muscles weakening and joints stiffening such as tai chi
Taking medication only as prescribed
Wearing the right shoes – comfortable, firm-fitting, flat shoes with a low wide heel, laces, buckles or Velcro fastenings and rubber soles that grip
Wearing slippers which are good fitting
Not walking in socks
Making sure clothing is not too long causing a trip hazard (touching the floor)
Hazard proofing your home to make it as safe as possible – removing slip or trip hazards like loose rugs or mats and repairing or replacing worn areas of carpets
Wiping up spills immediately
Making sure there is adequate lighting, especially at night
Using your walking aid at all times
Installing grab rails in the bathroom
Keeping pathways in good repair and clean
Marking the edge of steps so they are easy to see.
Home maintenance and modification services may also help prevent falls by making your home safer and more secure.
This may include installing:
Grab and shower rails
Ramps and other mobility aids
Emergency alarms and other safety aids.
What causes falls in the elderly?
Changes in your body such as vision problems, weakening muscles and stiffening joints can increase your chances of falling. Falls can also be a sign of a new health problem, medication side effects or balance problems. Even short-term illnesses (such as the flu and other infections) or surgery can temporarily increase the risk of falling.
If you've had a fall in the past six months, your chances of falling may be increased. There are many factors that can increase the risks of falling.
Poor footwear such as loose slippers, shoes that don't fit properly
Indoor hazards such as internal steps, rugs on the floor, slippery tiles in the bathroom, inadequate lighting between the bed and the bathroom or toilet at night
Hazards in the garden and outside areas of the house such as outside steps which don't have handrails or are slippery, and uneven footpaths
Sensory and balance problems
Low vision or blindness
Low vision or blindness
Hypotension (low blood pressure)
Who can help after a fall?
If you've had a fall, or you often feel like you're at risk of falling, don't just dismiss it as part of getting older, lack of concentration or clumsiness. Talk to a health professional and ask about different options that may help you.
It is a good idea to talk with your doctor about how to prevent falls, particularly if you have one or more of the conditions linked to a higher risk of falls. Your doctor can assess and help you manage your health and any chronic disease you may have, review your medicines, or refer you to another health professional or service.
If you've had a fall, try to give them as much information as you can about the time of day you fell, what you were doing and how you were feeling just before the fall. Make sure you tell your doctor any conditions you have and medicines you're taking.
A physiotherapist may be able to help you with balance and strengthening exercises. You can also ask them about equipment such as a walking frame or stick to help you move about more safely. It's important that any equipment you do use is adjusted to meet your needs and well maintained. For example, a physiotherapist can help make sure that your walking frame is the correct height for you and teach you how to use it safely.
It may be a good idea to talk to a podiatrist if you have painful or swollen feet, tingling, pins and needles or bunions, as all of these things can affect your balance. A podiatrist may also suggest ways to improve your circulation and decrease any swelling in your legs and feet, and provide advice on suitable footwear.
An occupational therapist can assess your home environment for potential hazards. They can help you with modifications to make your home safer, such as rails in the bathroom, and provide you with an exercise program.
It may be a good idea to talk to an optometrist because your eyes not only help you to see but also to maintain your balance. Having your eyes checked regularly, making sure you are wearing glasses with the right prescription and keeping your glasses clean are important.
What can I do to reduce the risk of injury if I fall?
Wearing hip protectors or limb protectors can help prevent hip fractures and skins tears.
You may also want to consider installing a personal or medical alarm. There are different types of devices you can choose from to raise the alarm should you fall. Your choice of device will depend on many things, such as who can come to help, the distance over which the device works, how easy it is for you to carry and use the device, and how much it costs.
Resources and support
If you need to find health professionals in your local area, you may find the following helpful:
Doctors - use the National Health Services Directory
Physiotherapists - use the database of physiotherapists maintained by the Australian Physiotherapy Association
Podiatrists - use the database of podiatrists, maintained by the Australian Podiatry Association
Occupational therapists - use the database of occupational therapists maintained by Occupational Therapy Australia
Optometrists - use the database of optometrists maintained by the Optometrist Association of Australia.
For more information about preventing falls in the elderly, including fall-proofing yourself, fall-proofing your surroundings and what to do in the event of a fall, download the Don't fall for it. Falls can be prevented! guide from the Department of Health website.
What else might help?
Independent Living Centres have products to help manage disabilities in daily life. These centres carry a wide range of products and equipment, so you can decide which one best suits your needs.