Injury rates from falls have grown so significantly over the past 20 years in Australia that falls prevention has become a major public health priority.
The AIHW reports more than half of all hospitalised fall related injuries occurred in the home, with 15% of all injuries caused by household objects and clutter that individuals never would have thought posed a health risk previously.
The rate of head injuries for older Australians caused by falls has also doubled over the last decade, with head, hip and thigh injuries amongst the most common reports of falls-related medical emergencies.
To highlight the importance of falls prevention strategies, MePACS has compiled a list of 15 different ways seniors can better protect themselves from falls and injury while still leading happy, healthy, and active lifestyles.
Falls Prevention Tip 1. Raise Awareness of Falls Risk in Older Australians
Leading an active lifestyle as a senior has its fair share of challenges, but there comes a time where one may become more persistent than others – recognising and understanding that the body may not be quite as willing to do the same things it did decades before, even though the mind is.
An awareness of physical limitations paired with safety measures around the home is the best way forward in falls prevention. Speaking to your GP or physiotherapist, attending a health seminar, or even researching reputable sites online (like Better Health and Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention Society) are just some of the ways that you can increase your knowledge on falls and strategies for prevention.
By educating seniors about the risks they face when it comes to falls, including how often these types of injuries occur at home where seniors feel most comfortable, we are creating a safer environment for them, more awareness of falls prevention and a more positive mindset in which to enjoy their leisure years.
Falls Prevention Tip 2. Access Physiotherapist to Monitor Mobility and Get Appropriate Exercise Regime
On top of improving overall awareness, senior Australians who have been affected by injury, illness, and simply old age will find it advantageous to leverage the services of physiotherapists to help with falls prevention and treat a range of mobility issues.
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.”
A physiotherapist can prescribe an age-appropriate exercise routine tailored to your body and abilities, helping you to better understand falls prevention, build strength, increase muscle mass, and improve your mobility and flexibility all at the same time.
“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.
“But it will always be a multidisciplinary approach with a team of health professionals to work out the cause of frequent falls and how we can deliver the most appropriate treatment, considering the range of potential factors.”
Falls Prevention Tip 3. Get Your Home Environment Reviewed by an Occupational Therapist
As highlighted above, 15% of all residential falls reported by the AIHW are caused by household objects that include (but are not limited to) beds, tables and chairs, and other furnishings as well as household clutter.
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.”
“It’s so 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.”
Falls Prevention Tip 4. Buy a safety device with Automatic Falls Detection
Wearable technology that can automatically detect a fall and signal for help are essential for falls prevention in the home and community.
That’s why our latest personal alarm, the MePACS Solo, is a revolutionary medical alert watch that has in-built technology to detect a fall, with an automatic alert sent to the MePACS 24/7 emergency response service.
Our new personal alarm watch can significantly reduce the time it takes for help to arrive, with trained professionals guaranteed to answer your signal for help within two minutes, medically assess the situation and alleviate the burden of calling for family or an ambulance from your shoulders.
Your safety is our priority.
Convenient, durable, and discreet, its features also include:
- GPS technology, to get help to your exact location quickly
- Two-way communication with the MePACS team
- Digital health metrics to track your heart rate and steps
- Long battery life and quick charging
- An e-Sim, so no need to connect a smart phone
- Water-resistance, so you can wear it in the bath, shower, spa or swimming pool
For more information, visit www.mepacs.com.au/solo-watch
Falls Prevention Tip 5. Consider a Personal Alarm System with a 24/7 Connected Emergency Response Service
A personal alarm with a connected response service monitored by real people is one of the best safety precautions you can have when it comes to falls prevention.
At MePACS, our efficient response team provide a high level of care when a loved one or caregiver cannot be around personally, offering 24/7 medical support at the press of an alarm button that can be easily used by elderly individuals to send out an alert when they need immediate help.
With a range of personal alarms to suit your needs and eligible funding options available, you can be reassured that if your loved one has a personal alarm with MePACS, both of you will have the ultimate peace of mind you deserve.
Our medical alarms not only work at home but also while out and about anywhere in Australia. And unlike auto dialler alarms, MePACS can share the emergency information with 000 who can then prioritise the call to the client; ensuring help arrives as soon as possible.
Falls Prevention Tip 6. Try some Home Exercises
Exercising in general has a range of health benefits for seniors, including improving mood and reducing risk of diabetes, stroke, dementia and falls.
Daily home exercises are a great way to start small and build up your fitness level in a comfortable and safe environment. They can also be a great preventative measure against decline in mobility and balance and help you to feel more energetic throughout your day.
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 from the website here:
These exercises are not intended to replace professional care for individual health. If you have any concerns or questions about what you can safely do, you should seek professional advice from your doctor, physiotherapist, or other health professional with expertise in exercise prescription.
Falls Prevention Tip 7. 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.
Seniors may experience an increase in medical issues simply because they are getting older, and while modern medicine has been able to extend our lives and make them much more comfortable, there are powerful chemical cocktails that may impact your mobility and falls risk.
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 can prescribe solutions that may mitigate these risks going forward.
Falls Prevention Tip 8. See a Podiatrist for Foot Exercises, Orthotics and Footwear Recommendations
Podiatrists are medical specialists that deal exclusively with the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg that have to do with your mobility.
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.
Falls Prevention Tip 9. Vitamin Supplementation
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 be taken to 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.
Falls Prevention Tip 10. Have Your Eyes Tested Regularly by Optometrist
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 24 months to have their vision checked and prescriptions adjusted, as necessary.
Falls Prevention Tip 11. See a Dietician to Ensure Your Diet Remains Healthy
Trying to change your diet to something healthier can feel very daunting, particularly when you’re challenged with tackling this transformation all on your own.
Not only is it difficult to get a real feel for what a healthy diet is comprised of these days, with different experts recommending different approaches, but finding the right foods for you specifically is another mountain to climb altogether.
Thankfully, professional dietitians can work with you directly to find the perfect healthy choices for you moving forward.
These experts will consider your medical history, day-to-day lifestyle, personal goals and then create a healthy diet plan to align with your expectations. Professional dietitians will also help you prepare effective meal plans that streamline things significantly, regardless of whether you love to cook or would rather have your meals prepared for you.
Falls Prevention Tip 12. Use Walking Aids to help your balance
Having a physical helping hand while you regain your strength and balance over time is always reassuring.
By providing a stable source of support, walking aids such as frames, crutches and canes can also help prevent falls and lower the risk of injury to users. Users also have assistance with general leg weakness and increased independence and confidence to go out in their local community for a longer period of time than usual.
Falls Prevention Tip 13. Wear Hip Protectors or Limb Protectors
Accidents can still happen no matter how many falls prevention precautions you take.
Modern medical technology allows for hip and limb protectors that are lightweight and compact but made of high-density materials that can protect the biggest risk areas on your body, like your hips and knees, without causing you to lose any mobility at the same time.
These medical devices absorb the blunt force trauma caused in a fall and spread it out across a larger area, minimising the risk of serious injury.
Sure, they will take a bit of time to get used to wearing on a regular basis just because they are so new. But 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.
Falls Prevention Tip 14. Medical Follow-Up in the Event of a Fall
According to the AIHW, between 30% and 50% of all adult seniors are going to fall every year.
Worse than that, 40% (and possibly even more) of these individuals are going to experience recurrent falls, sometimes falling numerous times each year.
Therefore, it’s so important to reach out to your GP and any other medical experts you may be seeing to figure out how to best recover from a fall as well as how to prevent future falls from happening altogether.
Proper follow-up with your medical team will help you significantly reduce the overall risk factors of follow-on occurrences.
Falls Prevention Tip 15. Talk to your family about your concerns
Each year, hundreds of thousands of Australians find themselves suffering from significant injuries as a direct result of falling. Worse, many of these injuries could have been avoided.
A simple yet effective way to handle your concerns about falls and other medical issues is to speak with your adult children, grandchildren or siblings and ask of their advice.
Those of your age may have already experienced similar circumstances and have some recommendations, while your younger family members may help you with research or finding a particular specialist in falls prevention.
Please take advantage of the details shared above to protect yourself and your loved ones from falling in the future. This is a serious public health concern that does not get the attention it deserves, a challenge that all of us are going to have to face as we age, and something that we need to confront head-on to protect those we love moving forward.