This Way Up

Falls threaten the health and independence of older people. But, falling is not an inevitable part of ageing. Unsteady walking, poor balance and weak legs have all been identified as key risk factors for falls.

It is common for people who feel unsteady on their feet to do less walking. Over time this actually increases the risk of falling because muscles get weaker, joints get stiffer and balance gets worse.

Staying active the best prescription
There is no doubt that the most important thing that older people can do to prevent falls is to maintain physical activity. Studies have shown that exercise significantly reduces the risk of falling when combined with other falls prevention methods (such as a review of medication and a safety evaluation of the home).

Research findings reinforce the role of physiotherapy prescribed exercise in reducing falls and injuries for older people living at home. The physiotherapist in our practice is highly skilled in prescribing home based programs of strength and balance retraining exercises.

Exercise helps posture & balance
People with better posture, better balance and stronger muscles are much less likely to be injured. For example, women who sit for more than nine hours a day are more likely to have a hip fracture than those who sit for less than six hours a day. Special exercise programs, prescribed by physiotherapists, can reduce the risk of falling by about 20% and can also decrease serious injury from falls. These are programs that are tailored to each older person’s needs and include progressive muscle strengthening, improving balance and walking.

Tips to prevent falls and improve balance

The physiotherapist in this practice suggests:

  • It’s never too late to start exercising! Balance is a skill you can keep or recapture at any age.
  • Exercise regularly – this keeps the balance ‘tuned up’ and bones and muscles strong.
  • Exercise within your limits. Your physiotherapist will tailor a specific exercise program for you.
  • Walking aids such as sticks and frames should be correctly prescribed and fitted.
  • Choose proper footwear – firm fitting, flat shoes improve your stability.
  • Take extra care on uneven ground – surfaces such as gravel and grass are more challenging to balance.
  • Good vision helps your balance. Be careful if lighting is poor and avoid walking in the dark.
  • Be aware of home hazards – slippery mats, dangling electrical cords and clutter can turn your home into an obstacle course.
  • Have a ‘Falls Emergency Plan’ – know how to summon help if you do have a fall. Ask your physiotherapist to show you the easiest way to get up off the floor.

Studies have shown that falls and injury rates in older people can be reduced by a program of strength and balance retraining exercises prescribed by physiotherapists.