Worried about taking a tumble this winter? There are many ways you can reduce the risk of falling, as Claire Muffett-Reece reveals
No matter what age you are, at some stage you’re going to slip or fall. Stumbling in the playground as a child; misjudging the kerb after a few drinks as a twenty something; sliding on an icy patch of pavement as a pensioner – we’re all destined to fall at one time or another. However, the elderly are at particular risk, with around half age 80 and over falling at least once a year. And it’s not just outside hazards to watch out for – your home also poses many problems, with one in four over 65s falling down the stairs, and over 230,000 people being injured in the bathroom annually.
Luckily there are many things you can do to reduce the risk, from eating right and exercising more, to decluttering your home and even checking in with your pharmacy on whether the medication you may be taking could be a contributing factor.
First things first – it’s time to talk feet, being sure to check on their overall condition. From bunions or corns to calluses and complications from diabetes, any foot-related condition can well make it uncomfortable to walk – meaning you won’t be as steady on your feet as you should be. The statistics are there to prove it; with one survey showing that foot pain was associated with a 62% increase of recurrent falls. With this in mind look after your feet, never ignoring ingrown toenails or any other type of foot issue, visiting your podiatrist on a regular basis to make sure they’re in tip-top shape. They’re also on hand to advise on the right type of shoes to fit you; again helping reduce the risk of falling. Speak to them about the shoes you wear both in and outside of the home, asking about shoes with good grip and rubber soles to help keep you steady when out and about.
Help is at hand
Now might also be the time to consider asking for help if it’s needed. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, so if you feel unsteady walking speak to your local pharmacy for advice on walking aids such as sticks or frames. While you’re there, it’s also worth discussing any prescription medication you’re on that may affect your balance; due to you mixing it with other medicines or even alcohol. Now’s also the time to think about getting your eyesight and hearing checked, both of which will also affect your balance and increase your risk of taking a fall.
You know you’ve got to eat well for a healthy heart and to reduce your blood pressure – but did you know what you eat affects your balance and posture, too? Besides the fact you should eat three meals a day to stop you feeling light-headed and tired – contributing to your risk of falling – good nutrition also reduces the risk of muscle loss and fraility. Be sure to eat a healthy diet that looks after your bones, choosing good sources of calcium such as milk, cheese and other dairy foods. Protein such as eggs or lean meat also keeps your bones strong, and add a good balance of carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables and foods containing vitamin D – also key for strong bones. Lamb’s liver, oily fish, and yoghurts and bread with added vitamin D are all great sources to turn to.
Yes, we’re on at you to exercise again, but studies have proven it helps prevent falls by strengthening muscles as well as improving flexibility and balance. Those feet were made for walking, so keep them moving as much as you can, even rotating your ankles when sitting to keep them from stiffening. Other forms of low impact exercise to enjoy that won’t have too much impact on your joints include swimming, stretching or even walking on tip toes, providing you’re somewhere safe and in no danger of falling. You should also make a note to keep an eye on your posture, as this also has an impact on your centre of gravity leading to poor balance. Try your very best to be aware of your posture as much as you can, both when standing and sitting.
Out and about
With winter comes poor weather, and with it rain, wind, fog, ice and snow; all of which can also see you taking a tumble. There are times when it’s much safer to not venture outside, taking advantage of home delivery shopping or reaching out to friends and family for help. However, there are many health benefits to getting out in the open air, so long as you’re careful and think about how you can safely reach your destination. Avoid rushing and allow plenty of time, planning the right route that’s clearly gritted and well-lit. Wear gloves as opposed to putting your hands in your pockets, and don’t carry too much shopping so you’ve a hand free should you start to feel yourself slip. You could even plan ahead a few days and venture out when the weather’s at its mildest, or choose a time of day when the temperature isn’t going to create more ice on the ground. Look out for other hazards too, from discarded litter or fallen leaves to uneven pavements and potholes.
Home sweet home
You may think your home is free from issues when it comes to falling, but unfortunately that’s not the case, with one survey showing that 29% of adults have tripped over in their house or garden. Now’s the time to assess each room and see where those accidents could happen, asking a friend or relative to stop by and help in case they see things you might not have necessarily picked up on otherwise. Make sure all areas of the floor or stairs are clutter-free – and that your banisters are securely fixed in place. Kitchen appliances and pots and pans should be kept within easy reach so no stretching or climbing is needed, and any spills immediately cleared up, no matter how small they may seem. When it comes to your living room make sure rugs aren’t frayed or bundled up and that any leads for your TV are out of harm’s way. Your bedroom floor should be kept free from clothes or other possessions, looking around for trailing items such as loose bedding – and consider low lighting should you need to use the loo during the night. Finally, take a look at your bathroom, investing in bathmats to reduce slipping on the floor, and investing in grab bars or railings so you can get in and out of the bath or shower with ease.