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Helping ourselves to prevent trips & falls

photo of Author - Liz Coulthread

Everyone stumbles and trips at some point, but, as we get older, falling can become a serious worry. Taking positive action to stay steady on your feet does not mean restricting everything you do. By improving your health, balance and mobility it can give you greater confidence and freedom for an active life. It is never too late to change your diet, or take up some exercise to improve your flexibility, strength, or stamina.

What causes a fall?

We all take risks everyday, but are you taking unnecessary risk? There are numerous factors that may contribute to a fall many of which are avoidable.

..... Environmental factors

A large percentage of accidents happen in the home. Incidents of tripping over cables, rugs, loose carpets, furniture or even the cat are far too common! Slips on wet floors or even sliding off a bed or chair can result in being unable to get up, even if there is no injury.

Footwear and clothing can also pose a threat, such as, tripping on slippers or catching feet in hems, not to mention losing balance when dressing or undressing.

The street is the next most likely place for problems, with uneven pavements, slippery surfaces, steps, and kerbs creating obstacles. This can become a major task for anyone who is not quite as nimble or sharp eyed as they used to be.

..... Personal factors

Certain medical conditions can increase the risk of falls, resulting in reduced physical ability eg. arthritis or a stroke, giving pain, reduced movement and strength of joints.

Reduced balance, or decreased fitness and mobility levels can mean that a person is less able to steady their selves and can mean the difference between a trip and a fall.

Certain medications, illnesses or impaired vision can make an individual less steady, again increasing the chance of a fall.

The loss of confidence and increase in fear that occurs in many fallers leads to a further reduction in activity and this leads to a further decline in coping with everyday activities.

Reducing the risk of falling

..... by reviewing the home set up

  • FLOORS - Keep all floors dry and clutter free. A non slip mat in the bath/shower will help to avoid accidents when getting in or out of the bath or shower.
  • STAIRS - Stairs should be free of obstacles with at least one hand rail. Check that the carpet fits properly to each step and is not frayed.
  • LIGHT - Good lighting is very important. Make sure that you are able to switch a light on and off easily from your bed so that you can see if you need to get up in the dark, and that any stairs are well lit.

The home set up should be reviewed and altered to cater for any changes in the physical needs of the individual, adding extra hand rails, rearranging furniture or raising bed or chair heights to make it easier to get in and out. All of these tips can help to make life easier for a person and maintain their independence.

..... by taking care of you & your body

  • EXERCISE - Regular exercise will improve balance, flexibility and strength, resulting in an increase in reactions and co-ordination making you more secure on your feet.
  • WALKING - Assessing your walking can determine which exercises you need to work on to become more steady, or to see if you need help with a walking aid.
  • MOVING - Teaching you how to move safely eg. from sit to standing, getting in and out of a chair or bed or even how to manoeuvre in bed.
  • PAIN - Appropriate management of problems to avoid pain, or the use of correct pain relief medication will help a more relaxed and natural movement.
  • FEET - Ensuring that you look after your feet (and wear sensible footwear) will make moving more comfortable and walking more balanced.
  • EYES - Have your eyesight checked regularly, as your vision plays an important part in keeping you steady.
  • MEDICINES - Some medicines can make you feel drowsy or a little light headed which reduces your stability. Make sure that you see your GP to discuss any necessary changes.

Physiotherapy can help

No matter how old you are, you can help to minimise the risk of falling. By having good balance, being fit and mobile, you are less at risk of falls and also more likely to be able to prevent a trip becoming a fall. Physiotherapy can help with this. By assessing and establishing where the problems lie, a programme can be designed specific to your needs. Older people are just as likely to change their behaviour as young people and it is possible to reverse “age-and activity-related decline” quite quickly, so, it is never too late to take action!

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