Falls Impact Millions of Seniors - 8 Factors That Help Reduce Fall Risk & Damage
Falling down affects the body as much as the mind. Fall injuries can lead to bumps and bruises and be as serious as breaking a hip, arm, or knee or hitting your head. Each year more than 3 million adults are treated for fall injuries in the emergency room. Over 800,000 people a year get treated for hip fractures or head injuries resulting from a fall.
The causes of falls can vary from person to person. But the consequences? Well-known, well-documented, and common across all people. Being considered a fall risk can lead to a loss of self-confidence and self-reliance.
A lot of times people who are considered fall risks may think, “I’m just not going to do anything where I might fall”. We think, “hey I can fall-proof my home and common areas so I’m going to add a guard rail, avoid loose clothing that can catch on corners, remove all tripping hazards, wear non-slip shoes and move to a bungalow or a condo so I don’t ever have to take the stairs.”
Fall-proofing your home can help provide some comfort, but it does not provide confidence. The self-confidence that comes from having the following mindset about falling: “I've got this.”
With the risks of falls even higher in the kitchen, the bathroom and the stairs, it is essential for people 40+ to be aware of the risks of falling and also how to prevent and recover from them.
Falls can occur due to many reasons both within and out of your control:
tripping on carpets, furniture, or even just your own foot
eyesight, hearing, and reflexes not being as sharp
conditions like diabetes, and heart disease.
digestive issues that may cause you to move quickly to the bathroom
age-related loss of muscle
on-going issues such as hypertension, getting dizzy or light-headed
lack of coordination
lack of sleep
So how do we deal with this?
Depending on your experience with exercise in the past, you may have ideas about what to do. But we recommend looking at the following 8 factors as part of your process to improve your confidence and prevent falls.
Having consulted with a number of clients in the seniors' age range for over 10 years, we have found that the biggest impact on increasing overall confidence and comfort level came from regular strength training.
A common misconception is that strength training is only for bodybuilders. Our personal training clients don’t see it that way at all. Read more about the success our client, a 75-year-old grandfather has seen over ten years of working with a guided and / or self-directed strength training process to help improve the quality of life and confidence in keeping up with his grandkids.
Balance and functional exercises have been found to reduce the rate of falls in seniors over 65 by over 24%. Training to improve your sense of balance and stability is essential in being able to regain balance when encountering a fall.
Engaging your core during all exercises is essential to improve stability. While you should consult with your exercise professional on whether you should dedicate one day for “ab day”, working on tightening and engaging your core during your strength and balance training exercises helps improve stability during everyday activities.
Keep your bones strong to prevent fall-related fractures
Keeping bones strong is also an essential part of reducing fall risks and reducing the amount of damage a fall can have on your body. Getting a good diet full of micronutrients recommended by your nutritionist or medical professional is essential. In addition, get at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week as recommended by the Canadian Health & Movement Guidelines
Get adequate sleep. Timely and regular REM sleep helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Sleep also helps regulate muscular and skeletal growth, so if you want all that strength training to pay off, make sure you're getting at least 7 hours of sleep.
Awareness of medication side effects
If you’re on prescription medication, consult with your medical professional about all the potential side effects of your medication. If you should be aware of any dizziness, vision or hearing-related issues, or inability to focus or balance as side effects of medication, discuss this with your exercise professional as well as your doctor to find out how to best deal with this to avoid a fall.
Move confidently but slowly
If you don’t have a long history of regular physical exercise, approach exercising cautiously and slowly as opposed to moving quickly. Improve your awareness of any stiffness, soreness, or pain within the body before, during, and after your exercise sessions. If you need assistive devices to walk such as canes, crutches, walkers, or mobility vehicles, speak to a certified exercise professional about how to exercise appropriately.
Losing weight can drastically help improve balance and structural stability. Losing weight also helps improve self-confidence in your ability to follow regular and healthy habits.
Ultimately, in spite of every effort, if you do fall, stay calm, use supports to get up to a nearby sitting position, and if you’re unable to perform activities right away or feel any pain, stiffness, injury or concern, get professional help to assist you in managing the situation.
Exercise is not a program, it’s a process - what you want to do is regularly examine how your body is evolving to the new training patterns and see what is required by your body to boost strength and confidence. Educate yourself about your condition and body with the aid of a qualified exercise professional. While researching online can provide an overview of interpretations and possibilities, know that someone who spends time understanding how established theory applies to you in real life will be able to help bridge the information gap in a much more reliable way.