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Preventing falls this winter

12 December 2017

About one third of people over the age of 65 years fall each year, yet around 50 percent of falls are known to be preventable.  The Public Health Agency (PHA), in association with all the councils in Northern Ireland, is urging everyone to identify factors that can increase the risk of falling and take steps to prevent them from occurring.

Hilary Johnston, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager with the PHA, said: “Falls continue to be the leading cause of accidental death in the home, with the incidence of falling increasing as people get older. 

“The consequences of a fall can be devastating, ranging from pain and suffering to serious injury and, in some circumstances, death. For many older people it is the fear of falling and loss of confidence that can significantly impact on their ability to remain independent.”

Many risk factors have been identified which can increase the likelihood of falling, however many of these can be addressed. Steps you can take to help prevent a fall include:

Home environment:

•        Keep your stairs free of clutter – do not leave items lying on the stairs that could cause a trip or fall.
•        Ensure your home is well lit (use high wattage low energy light bulbs) and always put lights on at night especially when getting up during the night.
•        Remove all loose/ worn mats.
•        Avoid trailing leads/wires.
•        If you use non-slip mats in the bath and shower ensure they are used appropriately removing them after use to air dry and cleaning the soap suds from them that can build up and cause a slip.
•        Mop up any water/ spillages as soon as possible.
•        Have broken or uneven pathways outdoors repaired

Your home can be adapted with the help of aids in order to minimise your risk of falling. You can be referred to an Occupational Therapist who can have handrails fitted to your home. For more information contact the Home Safety Officer at your local council.

Hilary outlined a number of simple checks:

•        Check your eyesight – good vision has a major role in how you maintain your balance. Eye tests are free for everyone over the age of 60.
•        Look after your feet – as you get older, the size and shape of your feet may change so always have your feet measured when buying new shoes. Choose footwear that have a back with a strap, velcro or preferably laces to secure them tightly. Avoid high heels and slip-ons.
•        Bone health – osteoporosis is known as the silent illness and results in more fragile bones that will break more easily, often as a result of a fall. There are a number of risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis such as family history, smoking, drinking alcohol, long term immobility, early menopause, previously fractured bones and certain medical conditions. If you think you might be at risk of this condition you should contact your GP.
•        Exercise and physical activity – activities that improve muscle strength in our legs, arms, back, shoulders and chest are particularly important as we get older. They can make it easier to get up out of a chair, and improve our posture, co-ordination and balance which reduces our risk of falling. Exercise must be performed at least twice a week for effective falls prevention.

Hilary concluded: “By incorporating small changes into your routine, accident prevention will become a habit without having to think about it.”

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