Falling over can happen to anyone, but for older people the risk is particularly high and the consequences potentially severe, including distress, pain, injury, loss of confidence, loss of independence and mortality.
Last year more than 26,000 older people attended emergency departments in Northern Ireland after a fall and falls are listed as the number one reason for trauma in older people at emergency departments.
With this in mind, the Public Health Agency (PHA), in partnership with councils across Northern Ireland, has produced a falls prevention video to raise awareness of the measures we can take at home to prevent falls, which can be viewed at:
The video is the latest in a series of awareness-raising activities to reduce the prevalence of accidents that occur in or around the home.
Hilary Johnston, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager with the PHA, said: “Falls continue to be the leading cause of serious injury and accidental deaths at home, with the incidence of falling increasing as people get older. The Health Survey for Northern Ireland 2017/18 found that 23% of respondents aged 55 and over reported having had a fall in or around their home in the last two years.”
Hilary said that incorporating small changes into your everyday routine can be really beneficial in preventing an accident at home.
“We can decrease the risk of falling in the home by taking some protective measures, such as removing hazards that could cause a trip. Engaging in regular physical activity, to develop and maintain strength and balance, is also particularly important as we get older. Exercises designed to improve muscle strength, some of which are highlighted in the video, can reduce your risk of a fall by improving your posture, coordination and balance,” added Hilary.
Keeping an eye out for potential hazards can make your home a safer place. Although some of these points may seem obvious, it’s easy to overlook them.
Steps you can take you can take to help prevent a fall in the home include:
* Keep your stairs free of clutter – do not leave items lying on the stairs that could cause a trip or fall;
* Ensure your home is well lit (use high wattage low energy light bulbs) and always put lights on at night, especially when getting up during the night;
* Remove all loose/ worn mats;
* Avoid trailing leads/ wires;
* If you use slip resistant mats in the bath and shower, ensure they are used appropriately, removing them after use to air dry and cleaning the soap suds that can build up and cause a slip;
* Mop up any water/ spillages as soon as possible;
* Have broken or uneven pathways outdoors repaired.
Your home can be adapted or equipment provided in order to minimise your risk of falling. You can be referred to an Occupational Therapist who can assess your needs and potential safety risks in the home. For social housing tenants you can obtain additional lighting, stair rails and other minor adaptations directly from your housing provider. For more information contact the Home Safety Officer at your local council.
A number of simple activities can also be carried out to reduce the risk:
* Check your eyesight – good vision has a major role in how you maintain your balance. Eye tests are free for everyone over the age of 60;
* Look after your feet – as you get older, the size and shape of your feet may change so always have your feet measured when buying new shoes. Choose footwear that has a back with a strap, velcro or preferably laces to secure them tightly. Avoid high heels and slip-ons;
* Bone health – osteoporosis is known as the silent illness and results in more fragile bones that will break more easily, often as a result of a fall. There are a number of risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis such as family history, smoking, drinking alcohol, long term immobility, early menopause, previously fractured bones and certain medical conditions. If you think you might be at risk of this condition you should contact your GP;
* Exercise and physical activity – activities that improve muscle strength in our legs, arms, back, shoulders and chest are particularly important as we get older. They can make it easier to get up out of a chair, and improve our posture, co-ordination and balance which reduces our risk of falling. Exercise must be performed at least three times a week for effective falls prevention;
* Be aware of your alcohol intake – as people get older their tolerance of alcohol decreases. The alcohol guidelines recommend that both men and women drink no more than 14 units per week and that it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more. You may also need to be mindful of how alcohol can affect medication that you may take – always ready the label.
For further information or advice on falls prevention or to get a copy of the Strength and Balance Exercise book contact the Home Safety Officer at your local council.
* The number of new ED attendances for patients aged 65 or over with a Fall in the triage text for FY2017/18 regionally is 26,528 (Health and Social Care Board).