Let’s put it straight out there! Falling is not a normal or acceptable part of getting older. Whether you have had a fall, or are just frightened of falling, you will know it can change your life and happiness. When your legs feel wobbly or won’t hold you up if you walk too far, or if you feel dizzy when you turn around, the natural response is to stay inside and do very little. But this is the worst thing you can do, as it actually increases your risk of falling even more! In this article we look at the risk factors that make you more susceptible to falling and what you can do about it. All hope is not lost, and a few simple things can turn your lifestyle and happiness around.
One in three adults over the age of 65 (who live in the community) falls every year in Australia. Three thousand people aged over 65 die each year from a fall related injury, which is a higher rate than those killed in motor vehicle accidents. So your fear of falling is real and justified!
So why do people fall over? There are a multitude of reasons and most are things we can do something about.
Pain and Muscle Weakness:
One of the main reasons people begin falling over is due to the pain and muscle weakness associated with arthritis in the knee, hip and ankle. Many of us can relate to the fact that stiff and creaky bones can cause pain and discomfort. Over time, and if ignored, this can prevent us from walking, doing as much around the house, or participating in things we enjoy like bowls or golf. When we stop doing these things our pain might get better in the short term, but our muscles get weak from doing less.
When our muscles are weak the special receptors we have in our joints, that help us maintain our balance (while doing simple things like walking in the garden or going up and down stairs), don’t relay messages to our brain as well as they used to. This makes us feel wobbly. As we start doing less our muscles get weaker and our balance gets worse, but our pain can sometimes get worse too. This is because arthritic joints need good muscles to protect them, and our ability to walk confidently needs our receptors to work well so we can balance.
A walking aid can help provide support and increase confidence, as well as reduce the load on arthritic joints.
At PhyioTas our Physiotherapists can assess your joints, muscle strength and coordination. We can help get you back on track to doing the things you enjoy by improving your muscle strength and control, reducing your pain levels and teaching you how to best manage your joints and activity levels.
We have individual assessments and treatments available, group strength classes, group osteoarthritis classes, falls and balance classes, and warm water exercises in the hydrotherapy pool. Evidence shows that these types of exercises help reduce falls and, more importantly, improve your confidence to get out and about.
Vision also plays an important role in helping you move around with confidence. As we get older many of us notice our eyesight begins to worsen, and never just in one field! We need ‘this type of lens’ to watch the television and ‘this type of lens’ to read our books! Often we get given vari- or bi-focals. Or even worse, we think it’s normal to lose our eyesight as we get older and so do nothing about it!
In both cases it can lead to tripping over things, either because we forget to look through the correct part of our glasses when walking, or we miss things in our way because we can’t see them. If this sounds like you, you are best to seek advice from your local optometrist.
Tripping over can also be the result of poor choice in footwear. So often our favourite slippers are falling apart at the back, with the heel scuffed down and flopping over the back of our feet. They can also be too big or not have any grip on the bottom. These situations make you vulnerable to slipping or tripping over. Good fitting, well supported slippers and outdoors footwear is very important in reducing your risk of falling.
Your beautiful doormats and rugs inside your home can be your worst enemy. Mats, rugs, poor vision and poor fitting footwear is a sure combination for a fall! Mats can either wrinkle up at the corners so you get your toes stuck underneath, or they move as you stand on them and over you go. Whilst they look lovely and make your home comfortable, if you are feeling vulnerable it is best to roll them up and put them away. Maybe when your muscles are stronger, your glasses work and your foot wear is good, they can come back out!
If you truly don’t want to have the fall of all falls, don’t wear your glasses, wear shoes that don’t fit, put wrinkly mats in your way and then walk around your home in the dark, half asleep and needing to get to the bathroom! If it’s even a bit dark and dingy, like on a rainy day, turn your lights on when moving around your house and ALWAYS turn them on when you are getting out of bed at night! Trying to avoid the cat curled up at our feet, as we get out of bed to cross the room, is often a cause of falling over. Turn the light on, the cat will wake up and you will see it!
As we get older our need for medications can increase. Taking multiple medications can increase your risk of falling due to the way they interact with each other. They can also sometimes affect your blood pressure or make you feel dizzy when you change position. If you are on more than five medications it is advised to have a pharmacy review at least annually. This is to ensure that none of your medications are reacting with each other, putting you at risk of falling. Speak to your local pharmacist to make this happen.
If you get dizzy when you get up from lying, or from sitting, take your time. This is because your blood pressure often needs a few seconds to adjust itself when you move from one position to another. If you rush to get up from your chair to get to that telephone that’s ringing, you might not get there! Just stand, collect yourself and then walk calmly over. If you miss it, they will ring back!
All or some of these issues can be the reason why you are frightened of falling. Talking about your fear with your GP, or one of our Physiotherapists at Physiotas interested in “falls”, can help identify what your main issues are and how we can help you manage them.
About the Author:
Lisa qualified as a Physiotherapist from the University of East London in 1999. She spent the first seven years of her career in the NHS before emigrating to Tasmania in 2006. Prior to working at Physiotas Lisa worked in the acute hospital sector in clinical and managerial roles, where she developed her special interest in lung conditions and Parkinsons disease.
Lisa began working at Physiotas in 2012, providing general musculoskeletal physiotherapy and lung and Parkinsons disease management. Lisa has appointments available in our Shearwater and Ulverstone clinics.