Falling for you

By: Eugene Sims

Okay, ‘falling for you’ might sound like a love song, but it’s my way of getting your attention with respect to falls and the elderly. According to Health Navigator, about one-in-three people over the age of 65 will fall in any one year. Of these, four per cent end up in hospital and one per cent suffer a hip fracture. If you think about those numbers, it’s quite alarming. Considering that we have 1,258,500 people over 65 in New Zealand, that means something like 4000 broken hips a year. The good news is that there is plenty that can be done to help prevent falls. Otago University created a falls prevention programme for ACC to address this issue, and there have been initiatives set up with Tai Chi especially for this, too.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to falls – balance, strength, reflexes, vision, medications and the home environment. One of my concerns is around the whole mindset of aging and how society views and believes how we should behave as we age. Often as people age, they progressively do less and accept that this is part of aging and that there is little that they can do about it. Of course, there are certain realities that occur as we age, and these can’t be ignored, but for many a lot of the negative changes that occur as they grow older may be due to doing less rather than due to the process of aging.

This is especially relevant with falls. If we don’t challenge our balance, strength and mobility then it will naturally decline, irrespective of age. However, this happens more rapidly as we age so it is even more critical to work on these things in the advancing years. Furthermore, after experiencing a fall people can then restrict what they do because of a fear of falling. This can lead to further physical deterioration and an even greater chance of another fall. What can you do to reduce falls?

Any increased exercise is helpful. Start with five minutes a day and build up. Exercise programmes that increase strength and improve balance, such as Tai Chi, are very good. Check with your doctor first before starting an exercise programme and check with your GP if any of the medications you take may affect your balance.

Try exercises at home to challenge balance. But please get professional help.

Physiotherapists are well versed in balance and mobility exercises. Safety is the number one priority.

Check your vision. Obviously, any visual impairment can be a big problem. See your optometrist and get it sorted. Make sure your home is not a Ninja Warrior obstacle course.

Keep the floor clear from things that may cause you to trip and use good lights at night. Keep paths at home mould-free.

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