Falls are a major health problem among older adults. Every year over 400,000 older people in England attend A&E departments following a fall. 30% of over 65yrs will fall each year, rising to 50% of 85yr olds[i].
Why does the risk of falling increase?
- Deterioration in muscle strength and balance
- Failing vision
- Medication which can increase the risk of, or be the cause of, falls[ii]
Research has shown that just the fear of falling can increase the risk of falling [iii]. Women have the added problem of osteoporosis which places them at greater risk of breaking a bone if they do have a fall. Most falls take place when performing everyday activities and it is estimated that 30-40% of falls can be avoided.
So how can you reduce the risk of falls?
Balance and mobility training can reduce the risks of falling in later life. There have been 5 skills identified which are needed for better balance:
- The ability to walk and turn the head at the same time
- The ability to extend the hip backwards
- The ability to reach down and pick up something from the floor
- The ability to reach up above one’s head
- The ability to stand on one foot for five seconds
These provide a guideline to plan a personalised exercise program which should also include posture exercises and stretching.
To challenge balance it could be as simple as changing the base of support from standing on a firm surface such as the floor to standing on a foam base. The challenge should gradually increase as balance improves such as combining changing base of support with movement i.e. standing on a wobble board whilst reaching up to be passed an object or to catch a ball. Balance and mobility exercises also include such activities as marching on the spot, calf raises, balance on one leg with support and step up and step down to name but a few.
Balance and mobility exercises have positive effects on everyday activities such as:
- Improve the ability to stand on a bus or train as they help develop the ability to maintain and regain balance
- Walking in poor lighting as they improve non-visual sensory input for better balance
- Going for a walk in the park, over cobble stones or pavements as they help to maintain and regain balance when ground levels change or when stepping over and around obstacles
- Climbing up and down stairs as they increase leg strength and core stability
Other activities which can help (in addition to specific balance exercises) are walking, water workouts, tai chi[iv] or yoga. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, co-ordination and flexibility.
Falls can be devastating to the affected individual and in some cases cause death. Even lesser falls can lead to loss of self-confidence and reduced quality of life.
My next blog will describe some balance and mobility exercises that you can do at home. If you have any questions please post a comment.
[i] ( DOH 2001)