Injury rates from falls in Australia have grown so significantly over the past 20 years that falls prevention has become a major public health priority.
This AIHW report found that more than half of all hospitalised fall related injuries occurred in the home, and 15% of those injuries were caused by standard household objects and clutter.
Unfortunately, the rate of head injuries for older Australians caused by falls has also doubled over the last decade. The most common falls-related medical emergencies include head, hip and thigh injuries.
Falls have significant physical and emotional impacts on older people, so implementing falls prevention strategies can make a big difference.
In this article we share a list of 15 different ways seniors can better protect themselves from falls and injury, so they can continue to enjoy a happy, healthy, and active lifestyle.
Tip 1: Remove unnecessary clutter in your home
So many falls reported are caused by regular household objects like rugs, beds, tables and chairs, as well as household clutter and unsecured electrical cords.
Sophie is an occupational therapist at Peninsula Health and helps seniors to identify interests and goals, manage daily routines at home and in the community, modify tasks to make them easier, and participate in safe activities.
“I’m currently working within the Allied Health Outreach Occupational Therapy team. This involves assessing clients in their homes and helping them to reach their goals, which for a lot of them is to remain living at home safely and independently for as long as possible. A huge part of the role is environmental modification and equipment prescription, but also lots of education to clients particularly in preventing falls.”
Sophie also says that It’s very important to set up your home as safely as possible, which might mean having some rails installed in the shower, next to the toilet or at any steps in the home. “These are spaces where falls can frequently occur. Having a close friend or family member check in with you every so often also helps – then you know you’ve got someone to rely on and trust if something doesn’t feel right.”
Tip 2: Improve your mobility and balance
Simple exercises can greatly help with falls prevention, while also helping you to feel more energetic throughout your day. Daily home exercises are a great way to start small and build up your fitness level in a comfortable and safe environment.
A recent website launched by a team of Australian physiotherapists, Safe Exercises at Home (www.saferexercisesathome.org), offers clinical and academic expertise in exercise and other forms of physical activity for older people and people with mobility limitations. You can find some simple exercises to help with falls prevention here: Home Exercises for Falls Prevention.
If you’re still unsure where to start, a physiotherapist can help prescribe an age-appropriate exercise routine tailored to your body and abilities.
Associate Professor Michele Callisaya, a researcher and physiotherapist at Peninsula Health, regularly gives a professional diagnosis, detailed monitoring and prescription of exercise and therapy solutions to patients who have suffered a fall each year.
“Not all falls will cause an injury but if they do, then that can be quite detrimental. Seniors are likely to fracture their hip, wrist or even get a black eye when they fall, which can result in a quite a long hospital stay for treatment and rehabilitation.”
“The important thing is that physiotherapists like myself, who specialise in exercises for fall, can help seniors regain their confidence, balance and strength to assist in their recovery”, says Associate Professor Callisaya.
Tip 3. Improve your lighting
Improving lighting around the home can help prevent falls by increasing visibility, especially around potential hazards such as stairs, rugs and furniture.
Adequate lighting can also enhance the contrast between objects and their surroundings, while appropriate window covering can help reduce glare or bright sunlight can cause temporary blindness.
You might want to consider installing motion-activated lights and night lights in high-traffic areas of your home, such as hallways or staircases, as well as in your garden. This will help ensure that you can navigate around objects safely.
Tip 4. Check your medications with a GP or Pharmacist
It’s quite common for older adults to take a whole host of medications, prescription and over-the-counter alike, on a day-to-day basis.
While modern medicine has been able to extend our lives and make them much more comfortable, they can include powerful chemicals that could impact your mobility and increase the risk of falls.
Some medications impact your balance more so than others, including (but not limited to):
- Mood Stabilisers
- Non-Benzodiazepine Sedatives
- Opioid Analgesics
It’s best to speak with your GP about all the medications you may be taking, how they interact and whether they are contributing to feelings of dizziness, unsteadiness, or even degrading your fine motor skills.
They will also be able to quickly analyse if your medications are setting you up for a fall and prescribe solutions that may reduce these risks going forward.
Tip 5. Wear appropriate footwear
Wearing appropriate footwear is a very effective way to prevent falls because it provides better support and stability to the feet and ankles, reducing the risk of tripping or losing balance. Shoes with non-slip soles, good arch support, and proper fit can also help improve balance and gait, and reduce foot pain and discomfort.
Some people can benefit from seeing a qualified Podiatrist – a medical specialist that looks exclusively after the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg.
A podiatrist can analyse your stride, gait, and the way each foot hits the ground with every footstep to determine whether the mechanical chain of these movements is efficient and stable or something just isn’t quite right.
A podiatrist can also recommend foot exercises that can realign the way your body moves to improve your balance, orthotic options, and footwear choices to improve your safety and stability as well.
Tip 6. Get your eyes tested
As we get older our eyesight begins to weaken, which causes poor depth perception, total oversight, “blind spots” and general instability on our feet.
An optometrist will analyse your eyesight far more effectively than any other medical expert. They’ll let you know how your eyesight has diminished and what you can do to correct these issues in an effort to assist falls prevention strategies.
It’s recommended that seniors visit an optometrist every 12 to 24 months to have their vision checked and prescriptions adjusted, as necessary.
Tip 7. Keep a healthy diet
A healthy diet plays an important part in fall prevention. By consuming a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, you can maintain your health and improve muscle strength and balance.
If you’re trying to change your eating habits and find it difficult to understand what a healthy diet is comprised of these days, it’s could be a good idea to consult a professional dietitian. A professional dietitians can work with you directly to tailor healthy choices for your body and your lifestyle.
The dietitian will consider your medical history, day-to-day activities and personal goals, and create a healthy diet plan to align with your expectations. They can also help create an effective meal plan that is suited to your skills and budget.
Tip 8. Are you vitamin deficient?
A vitamin deficiency can dramatically increase your risk of falling as you get older, but supplementing daily vitamins into your diet can help to restore optimal levels.
For example, Vitamin D is important for bone health and structure, and can prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Vitamin B12 can also support better balance and an improved gait, while regular supplementation with extra calcium will strengthen your bones and protect them from decline.
At the same time, older adults in Australia will want to be careful with melatonin. Clinical studies have shown that melatonin supplements may impair the balance of seniors for a considerable amount of time after they have consumed the supplements, sometimes for as long as 48 hours after the initial dosage.
Speak to your GP first about a personalised approach to vitamins before starting any supplementation in your diet.
Tip 9. Use walking aids to help with balance
Walking aids are like having a physical helping hand to support you as regain your strength and balance.
By providing a stable source of support, walking aids such as frames, crutches and canes can greatly help prevent falls and lower the risk of injury. They also help with increased independence and confidence, so you can enjoy spending time with your friends, family and community.
It’s important to make sure that you use the type of walking aid that is appropriate to your functional impairments and medical condition, and that your walking aids are well maintained and stable.
Tip 10. Place items in convenient locations
Placing items at convenient places can help prevent falls because it reduces the need for you to reach, bend, or stretch to access the items you need.
When items are placed in hard-to-reach or awkward positions, you may have to overextend yourself or use unstable objects (such as chairs or step stools) to reach them. This can greatly increase the risk of losing balance and falling.
Try keeping items in a tidy and easily accessible location to help maintain a clear pathway, reducing the likelihood of accidental falls.
Tip 11. Wear hip protectors or limb protectors
While they won’t necessarily prevent your fall, wearing hip and limb protectors can help avoid injury.
Made of high-density materials that are lightweight and compact, these protectors can be worn on your hips, knees and other limbs to help absorb blunt force trauma caused in a fall.
Modern solutions (from companies like Independence Australia, Impact Active, Hip Saver, etc.) are small and discrete enough that they fit underneath your clothes. They will soon feel like a “second skin”, all while providing you with the protection against serious injury that you need.
Tip 12. Medical follow-up after a fall
If you’ve already had a fall you must inform your GP and other medical professional involved with your care. Not only do they need to be aware so that they can treat you for any injuries, but they will also develop an appropriate recovery program for you.
A comprehensive recovery plan will help you regain your strength, mobility, balance and confidence, which will go a long way in preventing future falls from occurring.
Tip 13. Raise your concerns with family and friends
If you have concerns about falls and other medical issues, it’s recommended that you raise these with people you trust, such as your family, friends or carer.
You can discuss strategies for improving your health, take steps to identify and remove potential hazards at home, and even create a falls plan.
Additionally, by sharing concerns with family or friends, you are more likely to receive the support and assistance you need to stay safe and continue to live an independent and active life.
Tip 14. Learm more about falls prevention
It’s important to educte both seniors and their carers about how acknoledging physical limitations paired with safety measures around the home can contribute to fall prevention.
Speak to a GP or physiotherapist, attend a health seminar, or even research reputable sites online (like Better Health and Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention Society). These are just some of the ways that you can learn about falls and strategies for prevention.
The knowledge and awreness will help to create a safer environment and a more positive mindset in which seniors can enjoy their golden years.
Tip 15. Get a monitored personal alarm with automatic Fall Detection
A monitored personal alarm, like the MePACS Solo watch, can automatically detect a fall and send a signal for help. This can be crucial in preventing further injury and reducing the time it takes for help to arrive because it means that help can be on the way even if the person is unable to call for assistance.
With our monitored personal alarms that have built-in falls detection technology, if the device detects a fall it immediately sends an alert to the MePCAS 24/7 response centre. Our trained monitors quickly assess the situation and determine the best course of action – whether it’s calling an ambulance, or a family member to come help.
While many of us may experience a fall at some point, having a good falls prevention strategy in place could help reduce injuries and hospitalisations, and in some cases save your life. If you, or your loved ones are at risk pf falling at home, talk to your GP, or other health professionals and get some advice on how to keep safe.