Falls are a major cause of hospitalisations among the elderly. Yet, many falls are preventable if you put the right systems into place. It’s reported that as many as 1/3 of people over 65 years have had a fall in the last year, therefore, falls prevention needs to be a priority for ageing Australians. Queensland Health reported that most falls are from those aged between 80-89 years, and the highest mortality rates due to falls were among people aged 85 years or older. So it seems that falls risk increases significantly with age, and most commonly happens at home. With that being said, many falls are preventible. Let us take a look at what causes falls?
Can Your Regular Medications Increase Your Falls Risk?
Believe it or not, medications are a large contributor to falls when older people are at home. This is largely a result of the side effects of some medications that you may be taking. Some medicines can affect your balance, gate, and state of consciousness. They can also make you feel dizzy. If you feel any of these symptoms it’s really important to raise your concerns with your G.P. and ask if your medications could be causing any of those symptoms. By voicing your concerns with your doctor, they might be able to provide alternative options with less harsh side effects, that will reduce the risk of falls due to symptoms such as dizziness.
These symptoms are caused for various reasons. Some medications such as opioids, impair your judgement and alter your level of consciousness. Other medications such as diuretics can lower your blood pressure and rid your body of excess fluid. By ridding your body of excess fluid, you might need to rush to the toilet frequently to pass urine, but you might also feel dizzy when you get up because your blood pressure has dropped. Other medications may not be so compatible, creating unwanted side effects too. The key is to get a medication review regularly, especially when your medications have been changed as a result of a hospitalisation or a change in your health status.
Do Your Health Conditions Increase Your Falls Risk?
Your health status can significantly increase your risk of falls. This could be due to limitations in your mobility due to arthritis or injury such as a painful knee. It could also be due to other conditions such as low blood pressure or a lower heart rate. These symptoms can make you feel lethargic and dizzy. Becoming informed about your health conditions and how they affect you will lead to you being able to put preventative measures into place.
Another common and treatable condition that increases falls risk is a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs can make you feel really unwell or drowsy, sometimes without obvious symptoms. If you have sudden onset of drowsiness and a sense of feeling ill, visit your doctor as soon as possible. According to the Urology Care Foundation, men over 70 years are more prone to UTIs due to problems with emptying their bladder. While older women who’ve gone through menopause are at greater risk due to lower levels of vaginal estrogen which changes the climate of the vagina.
No matter what the reason that you feel uneasy, unsteady, or unwell, make sure you don’t leave it, and discuss it with your doctor as soon as possible. This could be the reason that you avoid a fall by reducing your falls risk and getting the required treatment.
There are several options to reduce falls risks. Firstly, as you get older it is really important not to get up from a seating or lying position too quickly. Sit up first and get your bearings. Once you feel orientated to your environment, then attempt standing. But only do this if you feel steady. Having a walker or a stick can often help as well. If you can’t shake the dizziness or disorientation, don’t get up. Call somebody for assistance. Many seniors fear that they won’t get to a toilet fast enough. Talk with your G.P. to arrange an assessment with a continence nurse. There are some great tools that you can put in place to help with this. If you’re getting up to answer the telephone or doorbell, remember that they can wait or call back. It just isn’t worth the risk of you falling.
Another reason that many older people fall is that they bend over to pick something up or put shoes and socks on. Being aware of your position and your surroundings when you lean over is really important. Don’t bend over if you feel unsteady, and make sure that there’s nothing that you could hit your head on if you’re bending over.
Nowadays there are tools available to aid in picking items up from the ground such as a “reacher grabber”. These pickup tools are readily available from department stores medical supply shops and pharmacies. There are also tools to help you put on your socks without needing to bend over, such as a sock aid. You can buy these from mobility aid stores and some pharmacies. And you can invest in tools such as a shoehorn to help you put your shoes on without leaning over. Also, look at buying shoes that don’t have laces. This reduces the need to lean over and stops the tripping hazard of loose laces.
Many older people use mobility aids. They’ve either purchased these aids independently or under the advice of a physiotherapist, doctor, or occupational therapist (OT). If you’re using mobility aids such as a wheelie walker, it’s a good idea to get an OT or Physio to make sure that it is the right fit for you. And if you have a mobility aid, don’t leave it in the corner of the room as an ornament. Be sure to use it at all times. Many falls are prevented by people using appropriate mobility aids.
A lot of seniors are unaware that they can access allied health care under medicare. This is arranged through your general practitioner. Whether you’re unsteady when walking, have pain in your feet, or need some help with making your home safe, allied health care professionals can be so helpful. A podiatrist can assist with foot pain, a physio can help with your gait and balance, and an OT can help with your home layout. Whatever is increasing your risk of falls, allied health professionals have expert services to aid in the prevention of falls around the home.
Another factor to consider in preventing falls is vision. As we get older our vision deteriorates. Having regular visits to the optometrist will ensure that you have the right glasses to help you see better. This will help you to prevent running into furniture or tripping over smaller objects.
Last but not least, if you’re unable to get to your doctor or allied health professional, many health professionals are offering Telehealth services where you can receive a consultation in the comfort of your own home.
Exercise is good for everyone at any age. Even if you’re living with health conditions, a modified and supervised exercise routine can improve your overall health and wellbeing. Many gyms have qualified exercise physiologists who can monitor your health while you’re exercising. They tailor individual programs to meet your needs and work with your limitations. This has proven to be especially helpful for older people aiming to improve their mobility and overall health. Exercise can make you more balanced and stronger, aiding in the reduction of falls risks. If you’re on a Home Care Package or receiving the Commonwealth Home Support Programme, you can look at including gym visits with an exercise physiologist into your package of care. You can also look at including allied health services such as podiatry into your package.
Talking about falls is the first step to preventing them. Speaking with friends, family, and doctors about your concerns is a great step in the right direction. And if you’ve had a fall, make sure that you talk with your doctor about it. Even minor falls are worth discussing. That’s because falls happen for a reason and your doctor can assess you to see if there’s an underlying cause that caused the fall.
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