16 September 2018
Health & wellbeing
Take steps now to improve your balance for the future
Hanover is always keen to support activities which improve health and wellbeing for residents and older people in general. With this in mind, Balance Awareness Week (16-22 September) seems an ideal time to look at the reasons older people are statistically more likely to have a fall, and also what measures can be taken to prevent them happening.
Causes of falls in older people
Most injury related deaths in the UK’s over 75s are due to falls, with around one in three over 65s having at least one fall a year. While most falls don’t result in serious injury, they can lead to broken bones (as bone mass naturally reduces with age), becoming withdrawn or a loss of confidence, independence and wellbeing.
Causes of such falls include:
- Long-term health conditions including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, dementia, diabetes, low blood pressure and muscle weakness
- Dizziness and balance problems caused by Ménière’s/vestibular disorders
- Poor vision
- Slipping on wet or polished floors
- Dim lighting
- Loose rugs or carpets
- Stretching to reach items stored in high places
- Rushing to get to the toilet, especially at night
- Falling from ladders or steps during home maintenance
- Loose footwear which causes feet to shuffle when walking
- Tripping over clutter on floors
- Pets getting under the feet
One of the many factors that lead to falls in over 65s becoming more likely is inactivity, which can accelerate the natural ageing process of muscles, bones and joints. Research suggests that taking regular exercise to improve strength, balance and coordination can help prevent, and even reverse, these changes. The recommended activity level is currently 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five times a week. It is advisable to have a health check with your GP before commencing a new fitness training programme.
Many Hanover estates offer regular keep fit sessions, such as stretch and tone, chair-based exercise and even belly dancing. Activities such as weight-bearing exercise, tai chi, yoga, pilates, dancing and even simply walking can be particularly beneficial in preventing falls. Specialist training programmes for older people are often available at community centres and local gyms - these can be tailored to suit individual needs and levels of fitness. It’s never too late to start living a more active lifestyle and enjoying the benefits!
Other preventative measures include:
- Asking your GP to check your balance, blood pressure and review any medicines for side effects that may increase your risk of falling
- Ensuring you get enough calcium to maintain bone strength by eating a healthy balanced diet (this is particularly important for post-menopausal women)
- Using non-slip mats in the bathroom
- Mopping up spills on floors as soon as they occur
- Ensuring all rooms, passages and staircases are well lit and free from clutter
- Asking for help when lifting or moving heavy or awkward items
- Having regular sight and hearing checks
- Making sure footwear fits well and slippers are replaced regularly
- Avoiding walking on hard, shiny floors in socks or tights
- Requesting a home hazard assessment from a healthcare professional
- Always using a bedside light if you need to get up during the night
- Picking up feet properly when walking
Older people affected by balance issues can find help and support from GPs and other healthcare professionals, plus charities such as Age UK and the Ménière’s Society. VeDA, an American organisation who was the pioneer of Balance Awareness Week, provides useful resources and emotional support for those living with vestibular disorders. Knowledge and learning in the field of hearing and balance is being advanced by The British Society of Audiology (BSA), who carry out research and work with healthcare professionals to improve the lives of patients affected. SAGA, a British company serving the over 50s, also offer a useful guide on falls prevention, which you can access via the link below.