In the elderly, preventing falls and their consequences (e.g. a fracture) is just as important as preventing heart disease and infections, because a fall can have a major impact on quality of life and even survival.
Up to 25% of elderly individuals who fall and suffer a hip fracture die within a year of the fall, and the great majority (80%) of those who survive must live with chronic mobility problems afterwards.
What can be done to prevent falls? Here are some tips:
- Physical activity helps keep muscles healthy and improves balance. Tai Chi is particularly effective at improving posture, flexibility and balance.
- Integrating balance exercises into your daily routine is another good way to maintain or improve your balance. For example, you could try standing on one leg while brushing your teeth.
- It’s important to remain well hydrated because dehydration can lead to dizziness and confusion, two common causes of falls.
- For some people, sudden changes in position (e.g. getting up from lying in bed) can lead to a drop in blood pressure and dizziness. These individuals should change positions more slowly, for example by sitting on the edge of the bed for a few seconds before standing up.
- People taking long-term drug treatments should review their prescriptions periodically with their doctor or pharmacist. Since medication is eliminated through the liver or kidneys, and these organs can become less effective as we age, it is sometimes necessary to adjust certain treatments to avoid adverse effects.
- Vision problems can also increase the risk of falls. It is therefore important to get your eyes examined every year and to have your prescription eyewear adjusted accordingly, when required.
- Lastly, adapting the home environment can help reduce the risk of falls. For example, make sure that hallways and pathways at home are not cluttered with objects on which a person can trip (e.g. carpet, decorative objects placed on the floor, loose wires).
While it’s important to reduce our risk of falls as we age, it shouldn’t keep us from staying active – adapting our activities does not mean no longer doing them! That said, it’s important to be honest with ourselves and to recognize our limits.