Falls are a major health issue in Australia with around 30% of adults over 65 experiencing at least one fall per year. With the rising number of people aged over 65 this is expected to increase significantly over the next decade. Many falls go undocumented because there is no apparent trauma. However, some falls can lead individuals to a fractured hip, shoulder, or wrist with a long stay in hospital and rehabilitation. There are many reasons why people fall including muscle weakness, dizziness, poor sensation in the legs and feet, and poor eyesight just to name a few. We will go through each one to give you a better understanding of the reasons behind falls and a few things you can do to offset the chance of you or a relative falling.
Your muscles provide you with strength to stand and move, as well as giving you the control and strength required to remain balanced. If you have weak muscles it reduces your ability to stay upright and react to walking on uneven surfaces or being bumped by other people or obstacles. If you have weak back and buttock muscles, it makes you more likely to fall forwards, and conversely if you have weak abdominal muscles you are more likely to fall backwards. As we grow older, we lose our strength – about 10 % a decade from 40 onwards. So we need to work at staying strong and healthy with appropriate exercises. This will reduce your likelihood of falling.
Reduced balance can occur because of several issues including:
- Sensory problems in the feet and lower legs. This presents as numbness with decreased sensation in the legs. Your body is unable to workout where your legs are being placed or the surface you are walking on unless you look at your feet.
- Joint degeneration. Each of your weightbearing joints have receptors in them that tell your brain where your joint is in space and what sort of surface it is on. This is called proprioception. This helps us to react to situations and help us stay upright and balanced when we are walking or moving about. If our joints have some degeneration those receptors become damaged and less sensitive, so we are not able to react as well. We become more reliant on our eyesight and muscles to stay balanced.
- Visual problems. We use our eyesight to assess our environment to navigate around obstacles and hazards. Poor vision makes it far more likely to fall over those unseen obstacles
- Dizziness can be another big factor involved with falling. Reasons for dizziness are numerous but may include issues with blood pressure, inner ear, or neurological problems.
- Medications can have side effects including causing the above issues of dizziness, muscle weakness, visual problems, and sensory changes. This is can be worse if you are taking several medications.
There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of falling:
- Visit your doctor particularly if you are experiencing dizziness. The doctor may also review your medication to ensure it is not the causative factor.
- Exercise: As we grow older, we lose our strength – about 10 % a decade from 40 onwards. So we need to work at staying strong and healthy. Appropriate regular exercise improves your strength and reduce your likelihood of falling. Additionally, specific balance exercise will help the proprioception of your joints so they can sense where you are placing your feet and reduce your falls risk.
- Footwear: ensure you have supportive, well-fitting, and non-slip footwear as you walk around the house and outside.
- Get your eyesight checked regularly to monitor your vision. Vision can deteriorate slowly and insidiously so you do not even notice what you don’t see!
- Use a walking aid to improve your balance particularly if you are feeling vulnerable. A fear of falling is highly corelated to falling so please don’t ignore it. Often a walking stick used outside the house when you feel unsafe can make all the difference and help you to get out and about more.
- Have a look around your home and see if you can reduce the chance of tripping or falling by removing item that are trip hazards. Unnecessary rugs, furniture, electric cords, or cluttered areas are big trip hazards. The garden hose is particularly problematic so make sure it is rolled up out of the way.
I hope these tips are useful, Deb