A step too far?
How it happened I have no idea.
One minute I was walking up the garden steps, something I do adequately several times a day. The next I’d fallen and was on my hands and knees with old-school bruises and grazes. I was really shaken. And despite being a supposed grown-up I cried like a five year old.
Fortunately for me I’m healthy and (relatively) young still. But when my mother tripped up on the path to her house she wasn’t so lucky, ending up with a broken nose, two black eyes, a lot of heavy bruising and a chipped tooth. As important, it shook her confidence badly. And she became part of a concerning statistic.
According to the Saga Populus survey (July 2015) 1 in 3 people over 65 will fall each year. And when you’ve fallen once the risk of having another fall increases.
Now my mother is no slouch. She’s a healthy, active and social woman – a member of several local organisations and clubs, loves to lunch with her girl friends, visit the theatre, and go on holiday.
Her most recent was to Canada taking in the Rocky Mountain Express – my accompanying aunt texted: “I’m having a rest, your mother is out white water rafting.” Followed by a cruise up the coast to Alaska. Again my aunt texted: “We’ve upgraded to a Gin suite. I’m having a little something from the fridge, your mother has gone husky sledding.”
So she’s not about to retreat to a comfy safe sofa and watch daytime TV anytime soon. But there’s a lot she – and all of us at whatever age – can do to help reduce the risk of having a fall in the future:
1. Keep active: don’t sit still for long periods – activity helps to keep your joints flexible and your bones strong. Find something you enjoy – walking, swimming, pilates – to help maintain strength and co-ordination. If you have a U3A www.u3a.org.uk near you they often have exercise or dance classes, and also walking groups that you can get involved with. Even if you don’t fancy going out YouTube is a good source of guided exercise classes – some you can even do in your slippers!
2. Look after your health: Get your eyes checked regularly – as you get older the muscles in your eyes weaken, making it harder to read small reading. Many people find this leads to a loss of confidence when driving or cooking, and is something that can often be solved with a revised prescription. Look after your bones and make sure you have sufficient Vitamin D and calcium – something as simple as a vitamin pill each day could help prevent the aches and pains that many people come to expect. And get your hearing checked – some conditions can significantly affect your balance leading to bumps and falls.
3. Watch out for medicines: be aware of side effects – some medication can make you drowsy, faint or dizzy. Make sure you check the instructions with any medication and if you experience any of these see your GP as soon as possible. You can also check symptoms at NHS Choices www.nhs.uk
4. Have a safe home: make sure your home doesn’t trip you up. Poor lighting, loose rugs, trailing wires, low furniture, spillages on hard or wooden floors – can all be a hazard. Have a look at www.nidirect.gov.uk which has some useful advice on how to spot things in your home that could be a hazard and how to prevent trips and falls.
5. Look after your feet: make sure you look after your feet and get common foot problems such as corns and ingrown toenails treated professionally. This can help prevent problems that make you unsteady on your feet. It’s also important to wear footwear that fits well, is in good repair and appropriate to the situation – to take an extreme example, don’t wear slippers with little grip on an icy path. Both Age UK and the NHS have good advice on keeping your feet fighting fit.
6. Keep hydrated: it’s very easy to become dehydrated and often those who have already fallen once fear another fall and so keep trips to and from the kitchen or to the bathroom to a minimum. This can cause a number of health problems including increasing vulnerability to a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) which actually impairs balance and increases the likelihood of falls.
For more information on preventing falls check out Age UK and Age Scotland and The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has produced a video showing a simple test you can take to identify those who may be more at risk.
Finally, make sure you have a clear plan in case the worst happens and you do have a fall – you need to be able to get help to you as quickly as possible.
So, whether you feel your age or not, the earlier you start looking out for yourself the better – to ensure a long, healthy and independent future. Husky sledding optional.