How to protect yourself against falls

Having a slip, trip or fall is something that happens to all of us during our lives.  As you get older falls may occur more often and you may be more likely to hurt yourself when it happens.

If you have had more than one slip, trip or fall in the past year you might be at a higher risk of falling, even if you did not hurt yourself.  If this is the case, then you should take action now to prevent any future falls.

 

Healthy eyes
Poor eyesight or changes to your eyesight can put you at risk of falling:

  • Get your eyes tested regularly, at least once every two years
  • Try using separate glasses for reading and to see distances
  • If you wear glasses by day, use them if you get up during the night.

Bifocal and vari-focal glasses can double your risk of a fall because the lower section of the lens can blur your vision at ground level. Consult your optician on the safest way to use bifocals, especially if you have a stairs at home.

Exercise
You are more likely to fall if you have weak muscles or poor balance. But you can help yourself by taking regular exercise, as this builds up your muscles and makes your bones stronger. It even improves your balance. Before you start exercising, it is always a good idea to speak to your doctor first, especially if you are taking medication.

Tips for getting started:

  • Start gently
  • Build up slowly
  • Be realistic – don’t try to more than you feel able to do.

Try walking, light gardening, dancing, swimming or aqua aerobics daily. Avoid sitting down for long periods of time and keep on the move. If you’re worried or nervous about exercising remember it’s never too late to start, even if you haven’t done much before. It can be fun, especially in a group, so why not try joining an older person’s community group in your area? 

Medication
Some medicines can make you feel drowsy or dizzy, increasing your risk of falling.  To stay safe, follow these tips:

  • If you take four or more medicines, ask your doctor to check them regularly
  • Tell your doctor if your medication makes you dizzy
  • Ask your pharmacist before mixing alcohol and medication, to prevent falls
  • Always take all of the tablets prescribed by your doctor
  • Tell your doctor if you think your tablets are causing you a problem
  • Check with your pharmacist before mixing non-prescription medicines with your usual medication
  • A daily tablet box, available from your chemist, is a useful reminder to take tablets
  • Ask your doctor about getting the flu vaccine (click through link here).Flu can make you unsteady on your feet.

Healthy eating
A healthy diet combined with exercise can help you live a full and active life and preserve your independence as you get older. Use the Food Pyramid as your guide to healthy eating.

Healthy bones
Tips to keep your bones healthy:

  • Eat three portions of calcium rich dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt daily.  Other sources of calcium include: eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, oranges and tinned salmon/sardines
  • Make sure you get an adequate intake of vitamin D. The best source of this vitamin is sunlight – so go out for a walk.  Foods high in vitamin D include: oily fish, liver, eggs, fortified spreads, milk and cereals. If you are housebound, check with your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement
  • Healthy eating and regular exercise will help maintain appropriate body weight and will lower the risk of falls.

Contact the dietitian at your Local Health Office or more advice on healthy eating.

Home environment
Simple changes in your home can help reduce your risk of falling:

  • Lighting - make sure your house is well lit, especially the stairs, hallway, entrances and exits; install sensor lights where possible; have a light switch at the bottom and top of the stairs; have a touch light beside your bed for ease of turning on/off
  • Handrails – use handrails on both sides of the stairs and in the bathroom to keep your balance. Consider putting a handrail at outdoor steps or getting a ramp if steps are too difficult to manage
  • Flooring – avoid loose rugs or mats. Carpets can be made safer by repairing/removing frayed edges. Plain, light coloured carpets are best on stairs so you can see the steps more clearly.

Useful tips

  • Install telephone extensions in your home or get a cordless phone
  • Consider using a personal alarm system in case of a fall
  • Keep your home warm as cold muscles could lead to accidents or injuries
  • Ensure you have been shown how to use your walking aid properly and safely
  • Make sure everyday items are within easy reach to avoid over-stretching
  • Get someone else to change the curtains or light bulbs for you
  • Keep rock salt at home to use on outdoor paths in cold weather.

The Community Occupational Therapist (OT) can visit you to give more advice on making your home safer. Contact your Local health Centre for more information.

Healthy Feet
Foot problems can contribute to increased risk of falling, so make sure your footwear is comfortable and visit a chiropodist, podiatrist or doctor if you are having problems with your feet.

  • Wear supportive flat shoes with non-slip soles or a built in heel, as they improve balance and mobility
  • Avoid poorly fitting shoes such as loose slippers, slip-on shoes or sandals
  • Never walk in just your stockings
  • As people get older the shape and size of the feet may change, so make sure you ask to have your feet measured next time you are buying footwear
  • If you are having difficulty tying shoe laces, consider shoes with Velcro fasteners, elastic laces or try a long-handled shoe horn
  • Wear loose clothing that does not restrict your movement and allows your legs and feet to move freely
  • Long skirts and flared trousers can cause you to trip
  • If you have a hip-protector, it is important to wear it day and night
  • As people get older, leaning your head back or turning it too quickly can make you dizzy, so move your head slowly and avoid sudden changes of position.

What to do if you fall

  • Do not panic, stay calm and assess the situation
  • Rest and wait for help if you are hurt or unable to get up
  • Summon help using a pendant alarm, or try banging on a wall, calling out for help or crawl towards your telephone
  • Move to a soft, carpeted surface if you have fallen on a hard floor
  • Keep warm by moving out of drafts or reach for something to cover yourself
  • Keep moving – roll from side to side or move your arms and legs if you can – to prevent getting cold or developing pressure sores

 The up & about plan

This method is one safe way to get up from a fall:

  • Roll onto your hands and knees, crawl to a stable piece of furniture (bed, chair)
  • With your hands on the bed or chair, place one foot on the floor in front of you, bending your knee
  • Lean forwards, push onto your feet and hands until you are standing
  • Turn and sit on the seat and rest before you get up again

All falls are potentially serious, so make sure to see your doctor afterwards.

 

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