Tips for preventing falls

As people get older, their strength and balance generally deteriorates and with that, their risk of falling tends to increase. But there are ways to minimise the risks. Dan Parton reports.

Falls account for a 1,500 deaths in the UK every year but according to Mytime Active [www.mytimeactive.co.uk], a Bromley-based social enterprise that provides leisure services, there relatively simple yet effective steps that can be taken to help prevent falls, both in and out of the home.

Mytime Active’s top 10 tips on preventing falls in and out of the home:

1. Stay safe while out and about

When going outside, allow time for your eyes to adjust to the change in light. While walking around, it is also sensible to use a walking stick and wear boots with rubber soles for added grip, especially in poor weather conditions. Curbs can be hazardous so stop to check the height of curbs before stepping up or down.

2. Leave hands free

Need to use a bag for shopping or an outing? Try a shoulder bag, bum bag or backpack to keep your hands free. This will help with balance and most importantly means you have your hands free to grab on to something should you stumble.

3. Be wary of floor surfaces

Highly polished floors, such as marble or tile, can be incredibly slippery so if you have no choice but to walk on this type of floor, take your time and be extra careful. It is best to walk on fixed plastic or carpet runners where possible and check all carpets and rugs have either skid-proof backing or are fixed to the floor. It is also worth avoiding walking around in socks, stockings or floppy/backless slippers; supportive low-heeled shoes are a much safer option.

4. Bathroom safety

Use a rubber bath mat in the bath or shower and install bars beside bath tubs, toilets and showers for optimal safety. If you are unstable on your feet, you could also consider a suitably-sized plastic chair with a back for the bath/shower.

5. Fall-proof your home

Consider purchasing a portable phone that you can take with you from room to room. This way you can answer the phone without rushing for it and call for help if needed. It is also a good idea to keep rooms clutter free; electrical cords and telephone lines should be secured to the floor and/or wall.

In terms of lighting, stairwells should be well lit, with handrails on both sides, and consider sticking fluorescent tape on step edges. It is also useful to keep a torch with fresh batteries beside your bed in case you need to get up during the night (please note: change position slowly from lying to sitting to standing to prevent dizziness).

Adding ceiling fixtures to rooms lit by lamps, installing lamps with a switch near the room entry, or installing voice or sound activated lamps are all good options.

If you must use a stool for hard to reach areas, use a sturdy one with a handrail and wide steps or, even better, reorganise storage areas to minimise the need for excessive reaching or stooping.

6. Check prescriptions

Check prescriptions with your doctor or pharmacist to see if they may increase your risk of falling. If you take multiple medications, make sure you ask about possible interactions between them.

It is also important to keep at least one week's worth of medications in an easy-to-reach place at home so you do not run low.

7. Improve strength and balance

Do daily muscle strengthening and balance exercises. From as little as £2-4, Mytime Health offers gentle exercise programmes for older people designed to improve strength and balance and this can make a difference. The classes have been described by attendees as helping with mobility, physical strength and general wellbeing and even as an antidote to lethargy, pain and feeling low.

Mytime Health also offers the Walk from Home programme, which enables older people who may have had a fall to walk with more confidence and independence outside their home.

8. Encourage strong bones

Get adequate amounts of Calcium (1200 mg/day from food and supplements) and Vitamin D, exercise several times a week – gentle weight and resistance training is ideal – and ask your doctor about a bone density test. There are also medications available to reduce bone loss to prevent fractures – again ask your doctor.

9. Community services

Identify community services that can provide assistance. In poor weather, 24-hour pharmacies and shops that take orders over the phone and deliver can make all the difference.

10. Daily contact

Arrange daily contact with family or friends so that one person always knows where you are. If you live alone, you may wish to make arrangements with a company that can respond to your call 24 hours a day.