We’ve all heard the expression, ‘you’re only as old as you feel’ and we would do well to live by it. After all, why should an arbitrary time construct based on planetary orbital patterns dictate how we live our lives or determine what value we can provide to others? But sadly, there comes a time when how we feel catches up to our age and consequently we become at much greater risk of illness and injury. As enticing as it may be when we recall a vision of our younger selves and catch a burst of nostalgic, youthful energy, to go running down the street and feel the wind in our hair again, we must inevitably accept that those days may be behind us.
Normal ageing involves weaker muscles, worse balance, poor eyesight and slower reaction times. All of these contribute to the increased risk of falling in old age, the ramifications of which can be extensive. One in three people aged over 65 falls every year. It’s not surprising therefore that a Federal Department of Health and Ageing report found that fall related injury may account for a health care cost of $1.37 billion unless preventative measures are taken. But besides the health care costs and obvious physical trauma, falling can also lead to a fear of future falls and lack of confidence and this emotional impact can have severe consequences.
A study from the WRVS (the Welsh Royal Volunteer Service) found that the fear of falling meant five percent of people over the age of 75 won’t leave the house by themselves. In a population already as isolated and dependent as this, a loss of confidence can worsen social isolation, which has its own dramatic health impacts to both physical and mental health. People may feel older and frailer than they are, frustrated, helpless or fearful.
To help manage this, elderly people need to be encouraged to have a plan in place to mitigate the risk of falling, and should also be reassured that should they have a fall, there are steps they can take to ensure they don’t lose their confidence or their independence.
Below are some suggestions from the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care that are classified as interventions, which may reduce the rate of risk of falling:
Exercise programs can reduce both the rate and risk of falls by improving balance and strength. Some examples of such programs could be through individual home-based balance and strength training, group based tai-chi or group based exercise classes.
Taking Vitamin ‘D’ supplements to enhance your neuromuscular function.
Undertaking regular vision assessments and eye examinations.
Removing possible hazards in the home.
Becoming involved in community-based activities aimed at those over the age of 55 years. For instance, “The Stay On Your Feet Program” in Queensland addresses falls risk factors such as balance, gait issues, insufficient exercise, inappropriate footwear, low vision, medication use, medical conditions and environmental hazards.