When you were young it was simple: if you fell, you got back up. But as you age, falls become more likely, and more dangerous.
It’s not the fall that’s the problem – it’s the landing that hurts. In Canada, falls are the most common reason for hospitalization in older adults (1). Between 2017–2018, falls led to a staggering 112,008 hospitalizations (1) and this number is on the rise (2).
Falling can be a life-changing event, especially for older adults. One in five falls results in either a broken bone or a head injury (3). The wrist, arm, ankle or hip are the most likely places for a break to occur (3) and falls can even lead to death (2). The recovery from a fall can also be lengthy. Older adults spend an average of 6 to 9 days longer in the hospital for a fall than for all other reasons. Falling can also lead to a shattered sense of self-confidence linked to a fear of falling again (2).
Older adults in long-term care are in a unique situation – although their risk of falling is lower than those living at home (1), they are at higher risk of breaking a hip if they do find themselves on the floor (2).
The good news is that falls are not inevitable. One way for residents in long-term care to stand up to falls is exercise (4;5).
So, how can residents living in long-term care prevent a fall?
What the research tells us
Exercise programs that focus on balance appear to be helpful in preventing falls, especially when they are combined with exercises designed to improve strength, mobility, endurance, and gait (how you walk) (4;5). The most benefit is achieved when fall prevention strategies are customized to an individual’s needs, and exercise is combined with other strategies such as adjusting medications, removing tripping hazards, education about fall prevention, and using mobility aids like walkers or canes (4).
Research also shows that more frequent exercise is better. Programs that combine different types of exercise are most beneficial when they are offered 2-3 times a week. Both short and long-term programs have demonstrated beneficial effects. Although these programs have been shown to prevent falls, they do not help to prevent broken bones when a fall occurs (5).
Life is a continual balancing act. If you are an older adult living in long-term care and worry about falling, exercise combined with other fall prevention strategies can help keep you steady on your feet.