In New Zealand, about 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 will have a fall every year. Older people are more likely to fall because of weaker legs, poor balance, eyesight problems, nutritional deficiencies, hazards in the environment, or side effects from medications. Falls can cause serious injury in older people, and in some cases can result in death. A focus on falls prevention can improve your safety and confidence.
The fall cycle
If you have previously had falls, you may have lost confidence in your abilities and restrict the activities you participate in to avoid future falls. However, this can lead to a cycle of declination in ability. Participating in less activities for fear of falling can lead to decreased muscle strength and poor balance, which increases your risk of falling in the future. Instead, if you have a fall it is better to focus on maintaining activity to build muscle strength, balance, and coordination, and to improve your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and weight.
Participating in balance and strength-building exercises can help prevent future falls. The Steady As You Go© programme is a fun, weekly, and social exercise class for older people. It helps to build strength and improve balance in a social environment. A small cost of $3 is involved to help with renting a space for the programme. If you are interested in joining a class, contact your local Age Concern.
If you are interested in other community classes aimed at older people, the Live Stronger for Longer campaign, supported by ACC and the Ministry of Health, has a helpful page to find classes near you. You can search for strength and balance classes here.
To learn more about staying active and exercising, check here.
Tips to keep from losing balance
If you know you are likely to have a fall, there are some measures you can take to keep from losing your balance. These include:
- Having a call bell or button within reach
- Taking your time to get up
- Asking for assistance if you need it, particularly if you feel dizzy, weak, or light-headed
- Avoiding wet or slippery floors
- Wearing well-fitting shoes
- Using handrails in hallways and bathrooms
- Using your walking aids appropriately
- Having a night light or easily accessible light for getting up at night
- No using an IV pole, tray table, or easily moveable object to steady yourself
To avoid falls in your home, it is important to limit the hazards in your environment to make it safer for you to get around. Some common ways to reduce hazards in a home include:
- Limiting rugs, especially ones with frayed or rolling edges and ones that slide when you walk on them
- Having non-slip bath or shower mats
- Installing handrails in bathrooms and hallways
- Having a telephone within reach of your chair or bed
- Ensuring electrical cords do not cross walkways
- Having adequate lighting
After a fall
Despite prevention measures, there is still a chance that you may fall at some point. If you do fall at home, it is important to stay calm.
If you think you can get up, you should bend your knees, roll onto your side, and get onto all fours. If you can crawl towards a sturdy chair, you can use the chair as support to get yourself seated. Rest as much as you need in this process and try again if you need to.
If you cannot get up, try to roll or crawl towards a phone. You can also call out to a neighbour. If you are at risk of falls, you may want to consider a personal medical alarm to call for help in the event of a fall.
After a fall, it is important to visit your doctor to get assessed for injuries, and to assess strength and balance to help prevent further falls.
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