Whatever our age, keeping our body and mind as fit and healthy as we can is good for our balance, movement and for preventing injury.
Bones tend to become thinner and weaker as we grow older, particularly in women following the menopause. In older age we are also at risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition that causes the bones to break more easily. So it’s important to avoid trips and falls that can result in a fracture, and to keep our body strong to try to reduce the risk of falling.
If you are worried about developing osteoporosis or if your balance is becoming poor, talk to your GP. They can refer you to a health professional such as a physiotherapist, who will be able to help.
Top tips to help prevent falls
- Mop up spillages straight away so there is no risk of slipping
- Take particular care when getting up in the night to go to the bathroom. You may need to do this more urgently and frequently as you grow older. If you are at risk of tripping in the dark, have a night light or a lamp with a switch nearby. Find CSP advice on continence here.
- Remove trip-hazards like clutter, trailing wires and frayed carpet
- Use non-slip mats and rugs, or put a carpet grip underneath
- Use a grip mat in the bath and shower, and have grab rails for getting in and out
- Use high-wattage light bulbs
- If you are falling frequently, organise your home to keep climbing, stretching and bending to a minimum and to avoid bumping into furniture. For example, move crockery that you use regularly to a waist-high shelf
- Get help with tasks you can’t do safely on your own
- Avoid walking on slippery floors in socks or tights
- Avoid long, trailing clothes that might trip you up. If you are unable to tack up a hem, then put a belt around your waist and pull the excess material over the belt
- Wear well-fitting slippers and shoes in good condition that support the ankle and have a good grip on the sole.
- Maintain good physical fitness, muscle strength, balance and flexibility
Regular exercise can reduce your risk of falling. This might be simple activities to loosen up in the morning before you start your day. It might be walking or going dancing with friends to keep fit, or it might involve a specialist programme at a community centre or gym.
Weight-bearing exercise – where you support your own body weight through your feet and legs or arms and hands – is good for helping to maintain bone strength. Exercises to improve and maintain sensation in your feet and to keep the muscles and joints in your feet and ankles flexible are also useful. Regular sessions of the Chinese martial art, Tai chi, can help to prevent falls. Ask your GP or physiotherapist about local training programmes and find some exercises to do at home.
How can physiotherapy help?
A physiotherapist can:
- put together an exercise programme to improve your balance, strength or flexibility
- work with you in your home to identify any areas you may need advice about, and agree with you how you might reduce your risk of tripping and falling
- advise on what type of activity is safe and suitable for you. For example, exercise in your local swimming pool, where the water takes some of your weight, might be best.
Calcium and vitamin D are both essential for strong bones. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of calcium and spend time out of doors – sunlight boosts your levels of vitamin D.
Have your eyesight checked regularly. Look after your feet by trimming toenails, using a moisturiser, wearing well-fitting shoes and seeing a GP or chiropodist about any problems. Manage your medicines. Some medicines may make you more susceptible to falls and some react if taken together. Make sure your GP knows about all the medications you are taking – you may have bought some over the counter that are not prescribed. See your GP if you need to discuss this further. Some GP practices will arrange a visit from a pharmacist to go over your medications in detail with you.
Practical advice on falls prevention: