Towards the end of my father’s life he became more frail and this affected his balance and strength. He became less inclined to go out and his social life began to suffer.
Twice he pirouetted outside our front door and landed in my husband’s favourite shrub! Thankfully he didn’t hurt himself. This prompted me to put him through a Physiotherapy assessment to get to the bottom of his falls!
It is thought that about 1 in every 4 older adults have a fall each year. Not surprisingly the percentage of people who report a fall increases with age. Falls are the main reason that older people lose their independence.
What are the indications that someone is at risk of falling?
People who have fallen once are more likely to fall again
- Listen out for an older person reporting that sometimes when they are walking they feel unsteady
- If you notice your relative holding onto the furniture when moving about their home this is a sign of poor balance
- If you notice that your relative has to push themselves up with their hands to get out of a chair this may indicate that they have lost strength in their legs
- Having difficulty stepping up onto a curb is also a sign of weakness in the legs
- If they have been advised to use a stick or frame to get around they may already be at greater risk of falling.
But the really good news is that there is so much that Physiotherapy can do to help! In this blog I explore the reasons that older people fall and how we can help tackle this to prevent falls.
What causes older people to fall?
There are many reasons, but the more common causes are:
A loss of muscle strength. From about the age of 30 we start to slowly lose muscle strength unless we are actively and regularly working to combat this natural change. By the time we reach 80, research has shown that this loss of power can be as much as 40%! When this happens in the large muscles of the legs and buttocks we lose the ability to do everyday tasks such as getting out of a chair, climbing stairs and even simple walking.
- A loss of flexibility. If an older person has arthritis or loses flexibility through lack of exercise they are more prone to falling because they are simply less agile.
- Poor general health. If an elderly person is incapacitated for a period of time they become weaker in their muscles and may ‘go off their feet’.
- Deteriorating eyesight means they may be less alert to hazards around their house.
- Dizziness like that caused by labyrinthitis and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo can upset your balance.
- Some medications can cause a loss of balance too.
But do not fear! Physiotherapists are trained to assess all the factors that can cause older people to lose mobility and independence and there are lots of things we can do to prevent falls occurring.
What will a Physio look for?
A Physiotherapy assessment first involves finding out about the person’s history of falls and possible reasons for them becoming more prone to falling. We find out about their general health to screen out any other possible reasons for falling other than the physical. A thorough physical assessment by a Physio will test a person’s:
- functional abilities like walking, stairs, and getting up and down from a chair.
- muscle power in their legs and arms
- the range of movement in their joints
- their ability to balance
If necessary we can visit their home to discover if they need any handrails or handles about their house. We also check for potential hazards like rugs or uneven surfaces.
What can be done to help prevent falls?
Once we have assessed the elderly person, we make a plan of action. This usually involves a programme of exercises to loosen up their stiff joints, to strengthen their weak muscles and to work on their balance. All these things can be trained and improved.
We include functional exercises such as getting up and down from their chair. We might need to raise the seat of the chair at first and, once they have mastered the exercise at that height, we slowly lower the surface until they are able to do the exercise from a normal height chair.
Similarly when practising steps we might start with a very low step and gradually increase the height until they can manage a normal height step.
We might feel that they need some help from one or two sticks or a frame and we show them how to use these safely.
We often find that after a fall an elderly person loses confidence but through practising these skills in a safe environment they can usually regain that confidence and get back to a more independent lifestyle.
My father went through this exact process and found it enormously helpful. In fact he didn’t fall again and my husband’s favourite shrub was saved – and so too, our marriage!
So if you have an elderly relative or neighbour who you think could benefit from our Falls Prevention Programme just:
Call us on 0208876 5690
Email by clicking here
Book online by clicking the green button at the top of the page
Or pop in for a chat first!