Most injuries in the elderly are the result of falls, but falls don’t just happen as we get older. More often than not, falls occur due to one or more risk factors. These include your physical condition or a medical problem, as well as safety hazards in your home or community environment. Personal risk factors include muscle weakness, especially in the legs; poor balance and difficulty walking; as well as a sudden drop in blood pressure (postural hypotension) when you get up from lying down or sitting.
Falls can cause broken bones, such as wrists, arms, or hip fractures. It can also cause head injuries. People who fall often can develop a fear of falling, which may cause them to reduce movement and cease everyday activities. When you become less active, you get weaker and this increases your chances of falling. Although falls may happen due to accidents or risk factors, they can actually be prevented.
Personal Risk Factors for Falls
- Muscle weakness
- Poor balance and difficulty walking independently
- Postural hypotension (sudden drop in blood pressure when you get up from lying down or sitting)
- Foot problems or unsafe footwear
- Lack of clear vision, wearing glasses with wrong prescription or other eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma
- Side effects of certain medications that cause dizziness or confusion
- Slower reflexes
- Fallen before
- Have chronic conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke or Parkinson’s disease
- Have weaker control of bladder (urinary incontinence) and frequently need to go to the bathroom
- Have dementia, depression or self-perceived poor health
Tips to Prevent Falls
At least 150 minutes of physical activity a week will strengthen your muscles and help increase flexibility and endurance. Try to perform strength and balance exercises at least twice a week. You will find that your balance and gait will improve, lessening the chances of a fall. Regular exercise will also reduce symptoms of postural hypotension.
Keep your bones strong
When bones are weak, they tend to break more easily. This is known as osteoporosis. By taking enough calcium rich foods every day, you can ensure your bones remain strong. These include low-fat high-calcium milk, taukwa, sardines, and cheese. Getting an adequate dose of vitamin D from sunlight also helps to keep bones healthy. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium from the food we eat. It can be found in eggs, cod liver oil or fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines. The best way to obtain sufficient vitamin D is to take a walk outdoors when the sun is up. 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight every day is all we need. However, avoid outdoor activities during the hottest period of the day (10:30 am to 3:30 pm).
Go for regular eye checks
Get your eyes checked at least once a year to ensure clear vision. Your doctor will also be able to detect if you are suffering from any eye conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts or if your spectacles are fitted to a wrong or outdated prescription.
Wear well-fitting non-slip shoes
It is important to select footwear that gives you a secure footing on the ground. Non-slip soles are essential for a good grip. Ensure that your shoes are comfortable and well fitted to prevent injury to your feet.
Keep your home safe and neat
Making sure your home environment is risk-free reduces chances of falling. Here are some ways to do so:
Arrange your furniture to make clear pathways for walking.
De-clutter your home to prevent tripping or knocking into things. Ensure that all wires are tucked against the walls to prevent tripping over them. Secure them so that they are out of the walkways.
Use non-slip mats, especially in the bathroom and kitchen, to avoid slipping.
Install grab bars in the bathroom or on stairs for additional support.
Avoid wet floors and clean up mess or spills immediately.
Keep frequently used items where you can easily reach them. For example, in lower shelves or cabinets.
Keep your home well-lit so you can see clearly. Consider adding more lights to dark areas, such as staircases, or place a lamp beside your bed should you need to visit the bathroom at night.
Ensure that your feet touch the floor when you sit on the edge of your bed. Before standing up, sit upright for a few moments to regulate blood flow.
Review your medication with your doctor
If you take four or more different types of medication, visit your doctor for a review at least once a year. Some medications might affect your coordination or balance, or cause dizziness, confusion, or sleepiness. Do bring along any other vitamins or supplements you may be taking as they may cause unwanted side effects when taken with your medication. Always consult your doctor before starting on any kind of medication or supplement.
Avoid drinking alcohol as it can affect balance and reflexes, which may result in falls and fractures or other injuries.