Every year over 400,000 older people in England attend A&E departments following a fall.

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.

Staying Steady - Age UK

[i] ( DOH 2001)

[ii] http://www.bhps.org.uk/falls/documents/Medicn&RiskOfFalls.pdf

[iii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11024126

[iv] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12170441

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