Falls and why they happen
Falls start to become a much greater risk when we age because of physiological changes in our bodies:
- A person’s gait begins to alter after the age of 55, affecting movement.
- A reduction in our sight, sense of touch and inner-ear function can adversely affect our sense of balance.
- Changes to our bones and muscles can also lead to a loss of strength, particularly in the core and legs.
Furthermore, the possible effects of medication, and conditions like arthritis or dementia add to the risk of falls for elderly people.
Up to a third of elderly people experience a fall at some point, and the consequences can be serious, with fractures common in the hips and knees. If fractures are avoided, falls often result in decreased mobility and a sense of anxiety for the fear of falling again, leading to reduced independence in the person affected.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of falls in the elderly. Some key prevention methods include:
1 – Lifestyle
Staying active helps an elderly person maintain strength in the lower body, thus keeping up their own internal resistance to falls. Getting outdoors, going for walks or jogging, keeping the body flexible and the mind alert – all of these things promote strength, balance and confidence.
2 – Lighting
Make sure all areas are clearly lit at night, and install brighter bulbs if necessary. Relocate light switches so nobody has to walk through a dark room to turn on a light. Ensure any stairs are particularly well illuminated.
3 – Keep floors and pathways clear
It seems so obvious, and yet so many falls are caused by tripping over something as commonplace as a stray slipper. Invest in more storage if things need a place to go.
4 – Identify and fix uneven surfaces
Are the floors level? Are there any tricky transitions between carpet, tiles and/or wooden floorboards? Do the rugs grip the floor or slide around? Fixing these potential issues can help prevent falls.
5 – Keep items within reach
Reaching for frequently used items is another reason elderly people lose their balance. Make sure everything needed on a day-to-day basis is easy to reach to eliminate this hazard.
6 – Handrails on the stairs
Sturdy handrails on both sides of a staircase can be a big help for an elderly person. Make sure they are well installed and that your loved one is using them.
7 – Supports in the bathroom
Add accessibility grab bars next to the shower and toilet to prevent falls, and to help your elderly relative maintain their privacy and independence. Non-slip mats in the bath and shower are also very useful safety measures.
What to do in the event of a fall
1 – Take a deep breath
If an elderly relative or someone you are caring for has a fall, calm and comfort them and make sure they don’t try and get up too quickly. Ask them to take a breath while you assess things.
2 – Check for injury
Before helping them up, make sure they haven’t suffered from a fracture or any other serious injury. If they have, call for help immediately.
3 – Get stable
If there is no injury, help them to stand up so that they can get to a chair. If necessary, help them to crawl and then get them up and seated. Slowly does it – they are likely to remain unstable for a while after falling.
4 – Stay seated
Let them have a cup of tea and relax. It’s important that they stay seated for a while to overcome the shock. Adrenaline can mask the pain caused by a fall, so wait and see if any issues arise before they try to get up again.
5 – See a doctor
Even if they don’t express any pain after the fall, it’s a good idea to get them checked out by a doctor anyway.
For more advice on falls, the Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention Society and My Aged Care have excellent resources.
Call us today on 02 9414 4400 to arrange a tour of our facilities for you or your loved one.