New data published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows an alarming upward trend of hospitalisations due to injuries that have been caused by falls.
The rate of hospitalisation from falls in Australia has increased by 3% over the last 12 months for men and 2% for women, with the rate of head injuries caused by falls (particularly for older Australians) doubling over the last decade.
Unfortunately, more than 125,000 people over the age of 65 were seriously injured as a direct result of falling and fall related injuries during 2016 and 2017. Hip injuries, thigh injuries, and brain injuries were amongst the highest medical emergencies reported as a direct result of this issue.
Falling injury rates have grown so significantly over the past 20 years in Australia that governmental agencies around the country are making this a major public health priority. The AIHW also reports that 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 personal alarm provider MePACS has also shared research showing that fall related injuries are the most common reason that there alarms are triggered by their clients. In an effort to curb and curtail a major public health issue that’s only getting worse and worse, MePACS has compiled a list of 10 different ways seniors can better protect themselves from falls and injury while still leading happy, healthy, and active lifestyles.
#1 Raise Awareness of Falls Risk in Older Australians
Believe it or not, even though injury rates related to falling (particularly at home) have skyrocketed over the last 20 years – posing a huge risk to the health and happiness of seniors – MePACS has found, through speaking with their allied health professional partners, that the overwhelming majority of individuals injured in these falls were unaware of the risks surrounding them on a day-to-day basis.
This is a huge problem, the one that can be remedied rather simply. It turns out that bringing more awareness to the issue, and certainly bringing awareness to the risk factors that can contribute to falling injuries, does quite a bit to bring down the potential for these incidents to occur in the first place.
Leading an active lifestyle as a senior has its fair share of challenges, but the biggest challenge of all is recognising and understanding that the body may not be quite as willing to do the same things it did decades before (physically) as the mind is.
By educating seniors about the risk factors they face when it comes to falling injuries (including how often these types of injuries occur at home where seniors feel most comfortable) – perhaps with public health announcements similar to the campaigns put forward to curb smoking and to improve safe driving – we may be able to reverse the upward trend of these injuries significantly.
#2 Access Physiotherapist to Monitor Mobility and Get Appropriate Exercise Regime
On top of improving overall awareness, Australians (particularly seniors) will find it advantageous to leverage the services of physiotherapists to prevent falling accidents and the injuries that can result.
Physiotherapists work with individuals that have been affected by injury, illness, and simply old age that are dealing with range of motion issues and mobility concerns. Physiotherapy is designed to not only properly diagnose and monitor overall mobility in an individual, but to prescribe exercise and therapy solutions that can improve mobility significantly.
Seniors in Australia can take advantage of a host of physiotherapy solutions designed to help them strengthen their bones and their muscles. This allows them to armor themselves against muscle atrophy and bone loss that comes so naturally with age, improving their quality of life while also protecting them from serious injury that can result from a fall.
The right physiotherapist can prescribe an age-appropriate exercise routine tailored to your body and abilities, helping you to build strength, increase muscle mass, and improve your mobility and flexibility all at the same time.
#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.
A call into an occupational therapist for a quick “household audit” can help you identify the biggest risk factors in your home straightaway.
Not only will an occupational therapist be able to immediately recognise the biggest threats in your home when it comes to falling, but they also be able to recommend changes to the way your home is laid out to improve the security provides you as you get older.
Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals that take a holistic perspective to helping their patients lead independent, active lifestyles – regardless of their age or mobility levels.
These professionals can recommend where and how to install grab bars, handrails, and non-slip surfaces as well as make a number of other recommendations to improve the safety of your home without compromising your quality of life or cutting into your independence along the way.
#4 Check Your Medications with GP ; Pharmacist
It isn’t at all uncommon for older adults in Australia (and around the rest of the world, for that matter) to have a whole host of medications – prescription and over-the-counter alike – that they are taking on a day-to-day basis.
Older individuals have to contend with a slew of maladies simply because they are getting older, and while modern medicine has been able to extend our lives and make them much more comfortable these are powerful chemical cocktails that may impact your mobility.
Some medications impact your mobility and your balance more so than others, including (but not limited to):
- Mood Stabilisers
- Non-Benzodiazepine Sedatives
- Opioid Analgesics
It’s never a bad idea to speak with your GP about all of the medications you may be taking, how they interact with one another, and whether or not they are contributing to feelings of dizziness, unsteadiness, or even degrading your fine motor skills.
Your GP will be able to quickly analyse whether or not your medications are setting you up for a fall and can recommend and prescribe solutions that may be able to eliminate or mitigate these risks going forward.
#5 See a Podiatrist for Foot Exercises, Orthotics ; Footwear Recommendations
Though it’s common to feel unsteady on your feet as you get older, the truth is that you may feel unsteady on your feet simply because your lower body – particularly your feet and your footwear – may not be operating totally in line with the rest of your body and your brain.
Podiatrists are medical specialists that deal exclusively with the foot, the ankle, and the lower extremities and the related structures of the leg that have to do with your mobility.
A podiatrist can analyse your stride, your gate, and the way that each foot hits the ground with every footfall to determine whether or not the mechanical chain of these movements is efficient and stable or something just isn’t quite right.
A podiatrist can recommend foot and lower extremity exercises that can strengthen this mechanical chain and “realign” the way your body moves to improve your balance, but they can also provide recommendations for orthotic options and footwear choices that can improve your safety and stability, too.
#6 Vitamin Supplementation
A vitamin deficiency, particularly a Vitamin D deficiency, can dramatically increase your risk of falling as you get older.
Three of your main senses have to be working in collaboration with one another for perfect balance – your eyesight, spatial awareness, and the vestibular system that links your brain, your eyes, and give you your sense of balance. As we get older the interplay between these main senses starts to diminish thanks to Father Time.
With Vitamin D, however, you’re able to push back against this diminishment. Vitamin B12 can also support better balance and an improved gait and regular supplementation with extra calcium will strengthen your bones and protect them from atrophy, too.
At the same time, older adults in Australia will want to be careful with melatonin. A number of 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.
Be smart with your vitamins and you’ll be able to protect yourself from falls in the future.
#7 Have Your Eyes Tested Regularly by Optometrist
As we get older our eyesight begins to weaken, another major issue that can contribute to instability on our feet, poor depth perception, and total oversight and “blind spots” that cause us to trip and fall over things in the periphery of our vision.
An optometrist will be able to analyse your eyesight far more effectively than any other medical expert. They’ll be able to let you know if your eyesight has diminished, how much it has diminished by, and what you can do best moving forward to correct these issues.
It’s recommended that seniors visits and optometrist every 24 months to have their vision checked and their prescriptions adjusted as necessary. The last thing you want to do is find yourself fumbling around just because your prescription is out of date.
#8 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 take a look at your medical history, your day-to-day lifestyle, as well as your goals and then create a healthy diet plan that aligns 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.
#9 Wear Hip Protectors or Limb Protectors
Accidents can happen, no matter how many precautions you take, which is why it’s not a bad idea to consider armoring your body against fall damage to prevent serious and significant injuries that would have occurred otherwise.
Modern medical technology allows for hip protectors and limb protectors that are lightweight, compact, but made of high density materials that can protect the biggest risk areas on your body – your hips, your knees, etc. – 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 for serious injury. There also made with modern materials that dampened this trauma as well, helping to soak up the force so that your body – and your bones – do not have to.
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 enough 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 you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
#10 Follow Up in the Event of a Fall
According to the AIHW, between 30% and 50% of all adult seniors are going to fall each and 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. All of that trauma is going to wreak havoc on your body, your bones, and your muscle tissue but it’s also going to stress every other area of your body as it works to heal each injury.
This is why 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.
#11 Consider Purchasing a Personal Alarm System with a 24/7 Connected Response Centre.
A personal alarm with a connected response centre provides a high level of care when a loved one or caregiver cannot be around personally, offering an alarm button that can be easily used by elderly individuals to send out an alert when they need immediate help.
With just a single press of the button on a personal alarm a connection is established with trained operators that can either provide immediate assistance by contacting a client’s contacts or emergency services who can respond to the individual quickly.
Best of all, these alarms not only work at home but also while out and about. The individual wearing this alarm can press for help whenever they need it, providing them with greater independence as well as increased security and confidence that emergency assistance is available if required.
With the MePACS medical alarm, once you have pressed your button help is only 2 minutes away, by our friendly fully trained team, ready to get you the appropriate help, any time of the day or night. We know that family may not always be available to help 24/7 so you can rely on us giving you and your family true peace of mind that you are safer with MePACS.
Unlike auto dialler alarms MePACS are able to share the emergency information with 000 who can then prioritise the call to the client.
You can be reassured that if your loved one has a personal alarm with a connected response centre, you can be guaranteed that they will never be alone which provides both you and them with peace of mind and confidence that should they need help someone is there for them anytime day or night.
At the end of the day, falling – especially falling in your own home – as a senior has the potential to completely change your life (from top to bottom) in the worst ways possible.
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.
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.
To find out more about MePACS Personal Alarms contact 1800 685 329.