Most falls do not result in serious injury. However there is always a risk that a fall could lead to broken bones, and it can cause the person to lose confidence, become withdrawn and feel as if they’ve lost their independence. People can drop out of activities and stay home more, feeling bored, frustrated and lonely. Fear of falling can make you less active, and this can lead to decreased muscle strength and poorer balance. This in turn can increase the risk of falling again.
But falling doesn’t have to be a natural part of ageing. There are lots of simple things that you can do to help keep yourself well and stay steady on your feet. Whether you are fit and active, have difficulty walking and getting around, or are worried about falling, these activities can help you.
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to maintain independence and ensure you stay steady on your feet and reduce balance problems. Activities that improve muscle strength in your legs, arms, back and chest are particularly important. They can make it easier to get up out of a chair and improve your posture, co-ordination and balance. Balance exercises can be especially helpful if you have joint pain as they can help overcome stiffness.
If you have certain conditions you may need to be careful of vigorous, high-impact exercise or you may feel that you are not well enough to exercise. However, there are a number of different exercise options available locally and across Swansea to suit everyone’s needs, dedicated to Postural Stability, Improving Muscle Strength, Balance and Mobility, Co-Ordination and Confidence.
These classes are supervised by professionals who will ensure you keep safe and also have fun. They can be a great way to meet new people and increase your confidence, as well as reduce your risk of falling. Please discuss this with your GP or nurse, who will be able to direct you to the course that best suits your needs.
Eat a healthy balanced diet
It is important to eat plenty of calcium to help build and maintain healthy bones. Vitamins, minerals and protein are also important. If you enjoy a wide variety of food you will get a mix of all the vitamins and minerals you need.
The Food Standards Agency advises that a healthy balanced diet has:
Plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day).
Plenty of starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta.
Wholegrain varieties whenever possible.
Some milk and dairy foods.
Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein.
Dehydration can lead to low blood pressure and dizziness. Drinking 2 litres of fluid a day will help keep you hydrated, unless you have been specifically told to drink less by a doctor due to a medical condition. You will need to drink more in hot conditions.
Alcohol can affect your balance and may interact with your medication. Check with your pharmacist or GP if you are unsure.
Have your medicines reviewed
As we get older the way that medicines work in our bodies changes. Some medicines, or combinations of medicines, can make you sleepy or dizzy and can cause you to fall. This includes medicines you buy over-the-counter. If you are concerned, ask your local pharmacist, GP or nurse to review your medications.
Have your hearing and vision checked
Poor vision can increase your risk of falling. Have your eyes checked by an optician at least once a year. You may be wearing the wrong glasses or have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that limits your vision.
Hearing loss has been associated with a higher risk of falls. Your surgery can check your ears for things such as wax build-up. You should also have your hearing checked by a professional if you feel it is not as good as it used to be and consider a hearing aid.
Look after your feet
It sounds simple, but wearing well-fitted shoes and slippers can help reduce your risk of falls.
If you have a problem with your feet, you can now access a chiropodist directly and do not require a referral from your GP or health practitioner. You can telephone for advice, or attend Port Talbot resource Centre’s walk-in clinic. Details of this service are available from your GP surgery.
Making Your Home Safer
Most falls occur at home. These tips can help you to stay safe and independent in your home. Be wary of getting out of bed or getting up from a chair if you have been lying / sitting for a while. Your blood pressure can drop when you stand, causing you to become dizzy. Try to stand up slowly and in stages. Stand still for a few moments before walking.
Reducing trips and slips
Mats and rugs can look lovely, but they are trip hazards. Think about removing them if you are at risk of falling.
Take your time when moving around your home – rushing to answer the door, or the phone, or to the loo may cause you to trip and fall.
Using a handrail on the stairs can help you to keep your balance. Social Services may be able to help you to get a handrail fitted if you don’t have one.
Declutter! Look at your home; if there are books, boxes, shoes, cables, cats or dogs in your path, you could trip over them. Get rid of what you don’t need and move what you can to keep your walkway clear. Ask for help with lifting and carrying items.
Ensure your home is well lit – turn the lights on as you move through your home, especially at night. Keep your glasses within easy reach. Keep a torch handy in case of a power cut. Consider a night light for your bedroom.
Beware of wet floors, especially in the kitchen or bathroom. Mop up any spills immediately. Consider grab rails near the bath and toilet.
Wear well fitted shoes or slippers and comfortable clothing.
A personal alarm system may be a comfort to you and your family. There are also secure and convenient ways of ensuring someone can enter your home should you need it, including such people as family, carers and the emergency services. You can contact Social services for information.
Please remember that all healthcare professionals take falls in older people seriously because of the impact it can have on a person’s overall health and wellbeing.
Discuss any falls you have had with your GP, nurse or therapist and mention if it has had an impact on your life. You can be assessed to see if there are any interventions that may reduce your risk of falling. They can also help you to access useful services in your local area.
Swansea Council for Voluntary Service in partnership with the ABMU Acute Clinical Team (formerly known as The Chronic Conditions management Team) has produced a Falls Prevention Guide which provides advice and guidance on Falls Prevention and an advice sheet on what to do if you have a fall at home. It includes contact numbers and internet details for local services that can help you. This guide is available at your GP surgery or may be available at your local library or local authority office.