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For the month of April 2023, we are raising awareness of the April Falls Month.
April Falls Month is an annual campaign of the NSW Falls Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network to raise awareness of falls among older people and its impact on their health and wellbeing. The initiative also promotes best practice ways to avoid them.
With holidays around the corner and many of us out and about with family and friends, it’s a good time to learn about the risk and prevention of falls among older people.
Falls are Australia’s number one cause of injury hospitalisation and death, 42% of injury hospitalisations and 40% of injury deaths are caused by falls.
Why are falls in older people a problem?
Falls can happen to anyone, anywhere. But falls requiring hospitalisation are more common in older people and are most likely to happen at home.
The risk of falls for older people is higher. This is because older people commonly experience age-related changes including:
- Poorer eyesight and hearing
- Slowed reaction times
- Loss of muscle tone
- Stiff joints
- Cognitive changes
- Reduced sensation or numbness
- Poor diet and diseases that limit activity, strength and balance.
Other conditions such as low blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, incontinence and a history of falls can also increase the risk for falls.
Around one-third of people aged 65 years and over fall one or more times a year. Not all falls result in injury, but many do, causing fractures of the hip, wrist and ribs; hip and shoulder dislocations; head injuries; bruising and sprains.
Due to the fear of falling, many older people lose confidence and stop their physical activity. Being less active leads to loss of strength and fitness, and that increases the risk of future falls.
How physical fitness can prevent falls
Falls experts are unanimous: any kind of exercise can help avoid falls. The more active we remain, the better the chance of keeping our muscles strong, our joints flexible and our balance better.
Some good options to investigate include home or group exercise programs, tai chi, dancing, yoga and pilates. Lawn bowls is great for balance and walking is always a good idea. Lots of local councils offer walking groups as well as gym programs, specially tailored for older people.
Many physiotherapists recommend building balance exercises into ordinary daily activities — like doing the dishes or brushing your teeth while balancing on one leg!
Tips for avoiding falls in the home
Nearly 2 out of 3 falls happen in and around the home. This could be due to hazards such as poor lighting, slippery surfaces and trip hazards. Here are some tips to reduce the risk of falls in the home:
- Check your house for trip and slip hazards, such as electrical wires or carpets that curl up at the corners
- Keep your floor and garden pathways clear
- Make sure you have sufficient lighting
- If possible, add a grab rail to your shower or a rubber non-slip mat in the bathroom
- Avoid ill-fitting clothing that can catch on furniture or doors, and footwear that does not fit well or has slippery soles
- Arrange items in the kitchen and bathroom so that they are easy to reach
- Avoid using a step stool, but if you have to use one, make sure you have something to hold on to
- Use a night light for greater security and ensure all the lamps are easy to reach from bed.
You can make a checklist of these risks and ask your support worker to help you around the house to make sure they are regularly checked. You can also use this tool to assess your risk for falls at home.
Contrary to popular belief, falls are not inevitable and, for many older people, they can be largely avoided.
That might mean talking to your GP and seeing your physiotherapist, screening your home and physical environment and finding some of the options available for getting or staying active in your local community.
Look out for health services that offer falls and balance clinics and check out some of the booklets and other information resources on the NSW Falls Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network website.
How Mable can help
Mable is an online platform that connects clients looking for aged care and disability support, with independent support workers. On Mable, you can book support workers to help you in many ways:
- Regularly assess trip and slip hazards in your home
- Help you maintain your garden so that you have a clear path to it
- Book an Occupational Therapist to help you make your home safer and reduce the risk of falls
- Support with physical exercises and activity
- You have choice and control over who supports you, when and where they support you, and how much you pay for the support
- You’re safeguarded by Mable’s verification and the high-level suite of insurances arranged by Mable on behalf of support workers
By Keryn Curtis, Community and Engagement specialist and the Mable team