Older adults must take special care to avoid falls

Balance, strong bones, neat surroundings, all keep danger at bay

Suzanne Dyck Healthy Living
Suzanne Dyck
Healthy Living

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death and hospitalization for older adults in Manitoba. In Canada, about one third of people aged 65 and older and half of people aged 80 years and older fall each year.

Most falls that require hospitalization occur in the home. Nearly half (44 per cent) of falls that result in an injury are caused by minor slips, trips and stumbles,while other causes include falling when going up or down stairs (26 per cent) or on ice or snow (20 per cent).

Over 75 per cent of those who fall will have a minor injury and between 13 per cent and 24 per cent will experience a serious injury, such as a fracture, dislocation or laceration. For some older adults, a fall can be fatal.

Since falls can cause serious harm, reducing the risk of falling is one of the most important tasks we can undertake. Let’s consider some ways to lower the risk of falling.

The best way to reduce the chance of falls and injury is to maintain a regular fitness program that focuses on strength training and a balance exercises. Strength training helps to maintain strong bones and muscles and balance exercises improve your ability to deal with challenges like slippery ice, uneven walking surfaces or walking in low light.

senior-yogaConsider mall walking for an inexpensive training option or a gym that offers aerobic exercise, weights and classes or a facility like Reh-Fit that caters to mature clients. Gyms offer all three areas of fitness including specific balance training. Yoga or tai chi classes are also a good way to improve strength and balance safely. See the www.preventfalls.ca website for a home exercise sheet and for information about exercise classes in your area .

Another way to protect yourself is keeping your bones strong. Experts now recommend that all adults should take a Vitamin D supplement of 1000 IU each day.

Try to remove obstacles in your home or outside in your yard that may increase the risk of tripping. This may include removing clutter, carpets or rugs that are not secured, and telephone or electrical cords. Be very careful on stairs, especially in the winter or slippery conditions. Have a solid rail to hold onto and do not carry things that require both hands or block your view.

Know your limitations and always consider your abilities and the safety of what you are contemplating. Ask for help when needed. Climbing a ladder to clean the eavestroughs in the rain may not be a safe practice for anyone! Consider how this might be accomplished in the safest possible way.

Wear proper footwear indoors and outdoors. Winter shoes should have non-slip soles with good grip. If using a cane, consider a spiked tip which can help on icy surfaces and be moved out of the way for indoors.

If your bones are not as strong as they once were and you have other risk factors that make you at a higher risk of falling, you may want to consider hip protectors. They are like undergarments with padding over the hips to reduce the chance of a hip fracture in a fall. These are available at health care products retailers.

The prevent falls.ca website has many resources to help you reduce falls including a “Prevent Falls Check-up” to help you identify your personal risk factors and provides information on how to reduce your risk.

The bottom line is to educate yourself and take steps to be safer so that you can stay healthy and active and enjoy a better quality of life.

Suzanne Dyck is a physiotherapist and musculoskeletal injury prevention specialist for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority at Victoria General Hospital. To support patient care at the Vic, please contact Victoria General Hospital Foundation at 204-477-3513 or online at www.thevicfoundation.ca.

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