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Preventing Falls in Older Adults: A Comprehensive Guide to Safety & Wellness

As we age, our bodies undergo various changes that can impact our balance, mobility, and overall safety. One of the most concerning risks for older adults is the potential for falls, which can lead to serious injuries and a decline in quality of life. In fact, statistics show that 30% of people over the age of 65 living in the community will experience a fall at least once per year, with 5% of these falls resulting in fractures or hospitalisation. In New Zealand alone, approximately 4,000 individuals break a hip from a fall each year, highlighting the importance of fall prevention strategies for seniors.


There are several factors that contribute to an increased risk of falls among older adults. These include vision and hearing impairments, memory issues, balance difficulties, muscle weakness, and limited mobility. Environmental hazards, such as loose rugs, poor lighting, and cluttered pathways, can also significantly increase the risk of falls in the home. Addressing these factors and implementing preventive measures is crucial for promoting safety and well-being in older adults.


To assess your risk of falls and take proactive steps towards prevention, consider the following questions:


1. Have you slipped, tripped, or fallen in the last 12 months?

2. Can you get out of a chair without using your hands?

3. Have you stopped doing certain activities because you're afraid you might lose your balance? Do you worry about falling?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to evaluate your fall risk and explore preventative measures. Community strength and balance programs have been shown to reduce the risk of falls by 23%, emphasising the importance of regular exercise and physical activity for maintaining strength and mobility.


Balance problems can be addressed through balance retraining exercises, strength training, and the use of mobility aids such as handrails and grab bars. Muscle weakness, a common issue among older adults, can be mitigated through proper nutrition, including adequate protein intake and vitamin D supplementation. Community-based strength and balance classes can also help older adults improve muscle strength and overall fitness.


Foot health is another important aspect of fall prevention, as foot problems and inappropriate footwear can increase the risk of falls. Regular visits to a podiatrist and wearing supportive, non-slip footwear can help maintain foot health and reduce the risk of falls.


Medications can also play a significant role in fall risk, as certain medications may cause dizziness or drowsiness. It's important to discuss any potential side effects with your doctor and review your medication regimen regularly.


Other factors to consider include postural hypotension, vision impairment, incontinence, pain management, and hypoglycaemia, all of which can contribute to fall risk in older adults. Consulting with healthcare professionals, such as your GP, optometrist, pelvic health physiotherapist, or pain clinic, can help address these issues and reduce the risk of falls.


In the home, safety modifications such as installing handrails, grab bars, and slip-resistant surfaces can help prevent falls. Clearing pathways of clutter, ensuring good lighting, and securing loose rugs and mats are also important steps to take to create a safe living environment for older adults.


Strength and balance training are key components of fall prevention, with research suggesting that two hours of exercise per week for a minimum of 10 weeks can significantly improve strength, balance, and overall mobility. Community-based programs and classes offer structured exercise routines tailored to the needs of older adults, providing a supportive environment for maintaining health and wellness.


By addressing the various factors that contribute to fall risk and implementing preventive measures, older adults can maintain their independence, reduce the risk of injury, and enjoy a higher quality of life as they age. Fall prevention is a proactive approach to healthy aging, empowering individuals to stay active, engaged, and safe in their homes and communities.


One of our physiotherapists, Alex, runs an exercise class in Mayfair Village on Wednesdays at 11.45am, or if you have had a fall, why not book in with any of our physios in clinic for an assessment and create a plan for your recovery.

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