Falls are the number one reason older people are taken to the emergency department in a hospital. Most falls don’t cause serious injury but they can leave you distressed. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to stay steady on your feet.
What can I do to prevent a fall?
Some health conditions, medications and footwear can affect your ability to stay steady on your feet. You might not notice your health changing as it can happen gradually, so it’s important to have regular check-ups so any issues can be picked up before they cause a fall.
We’ve all heard about the importance of regular exercise for general health. As we get older, our muscle strength and balance reduces, which can lead to a fall. Exercises designed to improve muscle strength and balance can reduce your risk of a fall by maintaining strong muscles and bones, which in turn will help your balance.
NHS Choices have advice on exercises for older people which can be undertaken in the home – including exercising when seated and exercises to improve balance, flexibility and strength.
Take care of your eyes
Eyesight changes as we age and can lead to a trip or loss of balance. Some eye conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts increase with age and it’s important that these are detected at an early stage.
Get your eyes and glasses checked regularly, at least every two years. This will detect any vision problems early before they cause you to lose your balance and co-ordination.
Check for hearing problems
Problems with your ears can severely affect your balance, and the risk of hearing loss increases with age. Talk with your GP if you notice hearing changes are affecting your day-to-day living or social life. The problem may be something easily treated, such as a build-up of ear wax or an ear infection.
Combined sight and hearing problems can make it difficult to maintain your balance.
Contact your local adult social services department to explain how your vision or hearing difficulties, or both, are affecting your day-to-day life. They will arrange an assessment, and specialist staff will explain the help available to make daily tasks easier.
Manage your medicines
Certain medications can make you feel faint or dizzy and affect your balance. Let your GP know if you experience side effects like these after taking any medication; they may need to check the dose or look at alternatives.
Support your bone health
Bones become more brittle and fragile with age and you may develop osteoporosis. Strong bones will lessen injury related to a fall; if you have weak bones, a fall can result in a broken bone.
Keep your bones healthy and strong by eating calcium-rich foods, getting enough vitamin D from sunlight and doing some weight-bearing exercises.
Choose the right shoes
Problems with your feet or shoes can affect your balance and increase your risk of tripping or falling. Talk to your GP, practice nurse and podiatrist about any foot issues.
These footwear tips can help you feel more confident on your feet:
- Make sure your shoes fit well and don’t have a tendency to slip off.
- Well-cushioned shoes offer comfort and support.
- Avoid sandals with little support and shoes with high heels.
- Wear slippers that have a good grip and that fasten and stay on properly.
- Always wear shoes or slippers, and never walk indoors in bare feet, socks or tights.
How do I make my home fall-proof?
Many slips, trips and falls happen in or around the home. Keeping an eye out for potential hazards can make your home a safer place. Although some of these points may seem obvious, it's easy to overlook them.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have good lighting, especially on the stairs?
- Are stairs and steps clutter free?
- Do you have handrails on both sides of the stairs?
- Do you have a nightlight in the bedroom or a torch by the bed in case you need to get up in the night?
- Are your floors clear of trailing wires, wrinkled or fraying carpets or anything else that you might trip or slip on?
- Do you have a handrail in the bath and a non-slip bath mat?
- Do you always use a step ladder to reach high places? Always ask someone to help you if you’re using a ladder, never stand on a chair.
- Do you keep your garden paths clear and free from moss?
- Does your pet wear a collar with a bell? It’s important to be aware of where they are when you’re moving about.
How can I overcome my fear of falling?
If you’ve had a fall or you feel that your balance isn’t as good as it was, it’s natural to feel worried about falling. This can become a problem if it’s causing you to avoid certain activities, such as exercise, or stopping you leaving your home.
To feel more confident and in control, think and plan ahead by discussing your risk of falling with your GP and consider if you need to install a personal alarm in the home.
Talk to your GP
Your GP may perform a falls risk assessment which will work out what’s making you more likely to fall. They can also draw up an action plan to reduce your risk of falling.
Personal alarms allow you to call for help, for example, if you’re unwell or have a fall and can’t reach a telephone. Pressing a button on a pendant or wristband you wear all the time will alert a 24-hour response centre. The staff at the centre will then call out the best person to help you – a neighbour, relative or friend, or emergency services.
A telecare system can automatically alert staff at a response centre if you need help, such as if you’ve fallen. For example, a bed or chair sensor can detect if you’ve got up but haven’t returned in a set time, and it will automatically send an alert to a carer or emergency service.
What should I do next?
- Consider whether you need to make any lifestyle changes and get regular check-ups.
- Book an eye or hearing test if you’ve not had one recently.
- Look for and fix trip hazards in and around your home.
- Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your risk of falling.
- Make a falls plan so you know who you’ll call and how you will get help if you fall.