Guardian Carers Feature on BBC News London

Falls in Senior Adults: Risk and Prevention Advice from a First Aid Expert

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Falls are one of the leading causes of injury and hospitalisation among the older population. Though many factors can lead to a person falling, there are measures you can take to prevent it. Falls are not an inevitable part of ageing.

According to the Government website, one out of three people aged 65 and above experiences a fall each year. This number rises to one in two for those aged 80 and above. Avoidable falls have cost the NHS £435 million each year.

We spoke with Emma Hammett, a former Nurse, First Aid trainer with over 30 years of experience, and the CEO of First Aid for Life. She is an acknowledged expert on first aid and accident prevention who shared her advice with us.

Stay physically active

One way to help prevent falls is to stay physically active. Exercise has been proven to improve balance, flexibility, strength, and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls.

Balance is a major factor in falling. If you can work on improving your balance and learning where your centre of gravity is, you can reduce your risk of falling over. Elderly-friendly such as walking, swimming, and tai chi can be effective in improving balance and reducing the risk of falls. Exercises such as standing on one leg, heel-to-toe walking, and yoga can improve balance.

Strengthening exercises can improve muscle. As your legs and back muscles get stronger, the likelihood of falling lessens. Activities such as lifting weights (even light weights), doing squats, and using resistance bands can improve muscle strength.

However, if the idea of that is daunting just know that any form of exercise will aid in muscle strengthening. Going on hikes or going for a swim will help keep your muscles strong as you age.

Coordination exercises can improve the ability to perform everyday activities safely and reduce the risk of falls. Activities such as dancing, playing catch, and using a balance board can improve coordination.

You can also do less intense coordination exercises like cup stacking, ping-pong or air hockey. Improving coordination can be achieved through engaging in fun, light-hearted activities that focus on connecting the brain with the body.

Enhancing your cardiovascular system is brilliant for overall health, helping with your fitness as well as your sleep quality and mental wellness. Activities such as walking, swimming, and cycling can improve cardiovascular health.

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for the whole body and puts little to no pressure on joints. This makes it a great option for people with aches and pains that limit movement.

Hammett recommends joining exercise programmes designed for senior adults. Not only is it a great way to get moving in a class tailored to older persons needs but it’s a chance to socialise with others who are in the same position as you.

Review your current health levels

As you get older, your body starts changing and you have to make certain adjustments. This can include wearing glasses, taking medication or eating a different diet. All of these factors can have an impact on a persons balance and possibly mean they are more at risk of a fall.

Visual impairment of any kind can have a huge impact on your likelihood of falling. If you can’t see potential trip hazards, how can you avoid tripping and falling? Hammett recommends making sure walkways to common areas are always clear, especially access to toilets.

You should make sure there aren’t any tripping hazards or clutter in the walkways, such as loose rugs, electrical cords, and other obstacles. Making sure that all carpets and rugs are securely fixed to the floor is essential.

Regular check-ups with your optometrist are also a must. The NHS suggests going for a checkup every two years up until the age of 70. After that, it is reduced to once every 12 months.

As the body ages, some people will need medication support. Though most medications will enhance how you feel, some can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and other side effects that increase the risk of falls.

Reviewing medications with a doctor or pharmacist can help to identify any potentially harmful interactions so you can make changes or receive further support to help minimize the risk of falls.

Hammett shared that some medications can also change potency when paired with certain foods and drinks. For example, the ingestion of grapefruit juice can change the absorption of Viagra for up to 24 hours which could affect its potency or its longevity.

Diet can also influence how our body develops at any age, so a change can have direct ramifications on a person’s mobility. When an older person modifies their diet, they may not be getting the necessary nutrients and minerals that are essential for maintaining muscle mass, bone density, and balance.

Inadequate intake of nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium can lead to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures, making falls more common and likely to cause more damage.

Additionally, dehydration can lead to dizziness, confusion, and fatigue, making it harder for older adults to maintain their balance and avoid falls. It is crucial to ensure that they are keeping hydrated daily, and receiving a balanced and nutritious diet that meets their unique nutritional needs to reduce their risk of falling.

Consider Mobility Aids

Making certain home improvements can help with general safeguarding, from help with moving around your house or simply having something that allows you to call for help.

Installing grab bars and handrails is a great way to help you move around the house. Handrails in bathrooms, stairways, and other areas of the home can provide support and stability and reduce the risk of falls. Hammett suggests also having a place to sit in every room so that if your legs get tired, you have a solid place to rest.

Personal alarms are a great addition to your personal belongings. Not only can they help put you at ease, but they can be a great help if and when you need it. You can also have location detectors if you are worried about falling somewhere unfamiliar.

The Difference between Care Homes and Private Care

It’s very likely that as we age we will fall at one point or another. But looking at what support works best for you is paramount to how it can affect the recovery process.

You are 3 times more likely to fall in a care home. Though there isn’t a definitive answer as to why this is, Hammett commented it may be due to a lack of confidence. One of the leading causes of falling is the fear of falling. In a care home setting, you are dependent on those around you and this can have an impact on mental well-being and can stir up feelings of anxiety.

Private care continues to foster independence, as you are still very much in control of your day-to-day. You are still in your home and can decide on meal schedules, activities and other details which keeps you feeling as though you are still very much your own person. This independence means that anxiety and fears of falling are much smaller.

Taking proactive steps to prevent falls in the elderly can greatly improve their quality of life and reduce the risk of injury. By engaging in regular physical activity, monitoring their health, and using mobility aids when necessary, seniors can maintain their independence and remain active for longer.

If you want to learn more about fall prevention or simply more health-happy ideas for the elderly visit First Aid for Life. If you’re considering private care, our Consultants can offer you advice. Simply make a no-obligation enquiry here or call 02071128537.

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