An article by Exercise Physiologist Jenifer Smallridge
Did you know that one in four people over the age of 60 will experience a fall each year? That is one too many! Falls are also the leading cause of injury-related deaths in Australia. It is very likely that a fall will affect us or someone we love in our lifetime.
Falling puts us in danger of fracturing or seriously injuring our hips, thighs, back, wrist, shoulders and heads, which can lead to extended hospitalisation and recovery. It also can also increase the risk of a future fall by impacting the way that we walk and our confidence levels.
With 70% of falls requiring ambulance assistance occurring in the home or a residential facility, it makes sense that we can start working on our balance and stability at home too.
What increases the risk of falling?
There are several modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors which intersect and can contribute to the likelihood of having a fall.
- A previous fall
- Health conditions
- Poor diet
- Poor or loss of eyesight
- Sore feet and unsafe shoes
- Loss of balance
- Change in walking pattern
- Not being active enough
- Hazards around the home
What works to prevent falls?
Balance exercises can be completed in the home, and need to be tailored to the individual to be effective.
These could include standing on one leg, standing on two feet with your eyes closed, or trying to walk in a straight line. You should feel slightly challenged and wobbly when you do balance exercises, but not too much.
Always complete balance exercises with a solid surface nearby eg: kitchen bench, dining table or a rail.
Strengthening the legs
The leg, hip and trunk muscles are crucial for staying upright and maintaining independence around the home.
Simple seated exercises such as leg extensions, or standing exercises such as squats and heel raies are fantastic for building up these important muscles. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can personalise a home exercise program for you based on your capacity and goals.
Ensuring your home is safe
An Occupational Therapist can perform a home assessment and recommend additional modifications to create a fall-free environment.
In the interim, the following tips can be helpful:
- Make sure floors aren’t slippery
- Remove any trip hazards
- Secure edges of mats and floor coverings
- Clean up spills straight away
- Take care in wet areas around the shower and bath
- Ensure your home is well lit
- Make sure walkways, stairs and ramps are clear from clutter and debris
- Use sensible storage solutions
- Check structure of furniture (eg; chairs, couches, beds) regularly and assess their stability, removing what is no longer safe
It’s never too early to work on your balance and strength, so remember to move your body, improve your health, and remove any hazards.