Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among Canadian seniors (1) and 20% to 30% of people aged 65 and older suffer serious falls each year (2). Furthermore, older adults who fall once are more likely to fall again (2). Those are startling statistics and they represent a lot of injured people whose quality of life is also likely to take a nosedive.
You don’t have to be one of them!
Maybe you’ve already made some changes to your home environment such as installing handrails and grab bars, improving lighting and removing items that can be a tripping hazard. That’s wise, but don’t stop there. Research shows these three simple changes to your physical health can also help you stay steady on your feet. Click on the links for details about the research.
1. Build your strength
As we age our bodies often lose muscle mass and strength (a condition called sarcopenia) and the resulting weakness – particularly in the legs – is what makes us more likely to fall. But we can fight back by getting regular physical exercise that includes weight bearing activities to build and strengthen muscles.
One approach supported by research evidence is “high intensity progressive resistance strength training" (3). It’s not as complicated as it sounds: simply start exercising with a weight that is difficult but doable and increase the weight as it becomes easier.
Many different types of exercise are beneficial for building muscle mass, including working out in the pool and with elastic resistance bands (4;5). Remember: the best type of exercise is one that you enjoy, as you are more likely to stick with it and see the benefits. What’s more, exercise can also be combined with other falls prevention strategies—such as education or doing an environmental assessment and removing tripping hazards—to prevent falls (6-9).
2. Find your balance
A loss of balance is also common in older age, another reason seniors are at higher risk of falling. Once again, exercise is the remedy. Movements designed to improve balance and flexibility – including Pilates and exercises using the Nintendo Wii – can help us stand firm, or recover quickly if we begin to lose our footing (10-12). Tai chi is also recommended for its various benefits including improving strength and balance through slow controlled movements (13).
3. Take stock of your pill cupboard
With age comes wisdom… and often a lot more pills. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs serve a purpose, but side effects such as dizziness, disorientation and sleepiness could cause people to stumble and fall (14). As well, seniors who take multiple medications are at higher risk of health complications from drug interactions.
A medication review with your doctor or pharmacist helps to assess the benefits and risks of prescribed drugs and may result in some drugs being “deprescribed.” This means backing off when doses are too high or stopping medications that are no longer needed (15).
4. Consider seeing a podiatrist
Be it issues with your shoes or feet, being mindful of your foot health is an important part of the falls prevention process. Podiatry care, specifically multicomponent care (e.g., podiatrist care with advice, information, exercises, and footwear and/or orthotics) and multifaceted care (e.g., risk assessment by a diverse team of professionals and a referral to a podiatrist) may reduce falls in older adults (16).
Failure (to move) is not an option!
Many older adults believe the best way to protect themselves from falling and getting hurt is by stopping some or all of their physical activities. That might seem like a safe and sensible solution but it’s flawed for a few reasons. The less you move and exercise, the weaker and more frail you become, which increases your risk of falling. And life can end up being pretty dull for people who don’t get out much.
Instead, examine your exercise and other lifestyle routines and make some changes if necessary. It’s never too late – or too early – to work on making yourself more sure-footed and able to resist falls so you can get out and about with confidence.