When a fall is more than clumsiness

Most of us have slipped, tripped or fallen over at one time or another. As we get older, falls become more common and the likelihood of injury increases.

Each year, one in three Australians over the age of 65 has a fall and it can have serious consequences.

A fall is one of the most common ways you can fracture a bone. Debilitating fractures such as a hip fracture often result in people not being able to live independently and requiring the services of a nursing home or hostel.

For the estimated 1.2 million Australians who have osteoporosis, even a minor fall can cause a fracture. Fractures associated with osteoporosis can result in chronic pain, disability, loss of independence and even death.1

What causes us to fall?

As you grow older, changes in your body such as vision problems, weakening muscles and stiffening joints can increase your chances of falling.

Falls can also be a sign of a health issue, medication side effect or balance problems. Even short-term illnesses (such as the flu and other infections) or surgery can temporarily increase your risk of falling.

It is important to talk to your doctor about any falls you have. Don’t just dismiss them as ‘not concentrating’ or ‘clumsiness’.2,3

Hazards around the home

Half of all falls occur in the home or around the home.

Trip hazards are everywhere, but we either don’t recognise them, or think of them as trivial and don’t bother fixing them. Common trip hazards include:

  • poor footwear such as loose slippers or shoes that don’t fit properly
  • internal steps, rugs on the floor, slippery tiles in the bathroom
  • inadequate lighting between the bed and the bathroom
  • outside steps that don’t have handrails or are slippery
  • uneven footpaths.1,3

Reducing your risk of a fall

The good news is that many falls are preventable and there is plenty of help and support available for older people.

  • If your medication is causing side effects such as dizziness, you can ask your doctor for a medication review.
  • If you are having vision problems, your doctor can refer you to an optometrist for an eye examination.
  • An occupational therapist can visit your home to check for potential trip hazards and offer advice to help prevent falls.
  • Many local community centres and gyms offer specialist strength and balance training, while the Chinese martial art ‘tai chi’ has also been shown to be very useful for older people because it involves slow, controlled movements and focuses on balance.

There are also some simple measures you can take around the home to reduce your risk of a fall, such as using non-slip mats in the bathroom and mopping up spills to avoid wet floors, removing clutter and ensuring that all areas of the home are properly lit.

While we all want to retain our independence, it’s important to know when to ask for help. A simple call out to a neighbour to help lift or move a heavy item might save you from a debilitating fracture and potentially lengthy stay in hospital.

Finally, make sure you eat healthily, exercise and keep as active as possible.2,4

Know your bones

If you have osteoporosis or thinning bones, you can find practical tips on falls prevention and more on the Broken Bones website. Speak to your healthcare professional to assess your risk and management options.

 

References

  1. Osteoporosis Australia: What you need to know about osteoporosis (Accessed 25 June 2018). https://www.osteoporosis.org.au/
  2. Department of Health and Ageing: Don’t fall for it (Accessed 25 June 2018)
    https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content
  3. My Aged Care: Preventing falls in the elderly (Accessed 25 June 2018)
    https://www.myagedcare.gov.au/getting-started/healthy-and-active-ageing/preventing-falls-in-elderly
  4. HealthDirect: Falls Prevention (Accessed 25 June 2018) https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/fall-prevention

 

AU-09554. November 2018.

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