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Falling...and over 65s

Going for my daily walk, I toppled and smashed down and banged my knees on two sharp stones. Tore my trousers and gashed my two knees. Totally unexpected.

Falls are a recognised serious health problem, , costing millions of euros, taking up thousands of hospital admissions and over 15,000 bed days and can have devastating outcomes, involving hospital stay, loss of income, complications and change of lifestyle.

While I got a fright, it takes more than that to do me in.

But 1000s of older people are not so lucky.

What causes most falls?

Balance impairment, decreased muscle strength, visual impairment, polypharmacy,(taking more than 4 medications), poor gait, walking difficulty, depression, lack of sleep, small stroke and not paying attention can all lead to a fall.

Walking is a complicated activity requiring the coordination of gait, balance, neural networks, brain function, muscles, skeleton, vision, hearing, concentration, fine touch and perception. We are actually walking miracles. Many of us lean forward when walking, perhaps thinking that if our head is bent forward, we will get there faster. But by leaning forward, we are already in semi falling position. Obviously, it is more challenging when walking on an uneven surface. Still.

The statistics are not good. It is difficult to get Irish up to date statistics for anything. The last study, while projecting to 2031, uses data from 2005.

In Canada, falls are the most common cause of injury related hospital admissions among the 65+. More than 1/3 of persons 65 and over, fall each year and in half of these cases, the falls are recurrent. The risk doubles or triples with cognitive impairment or a history of previous falls.The chance of having another fall in the next 6 months is approx 40%. Falls can be an indication of an underlying medical condition and the statistics for a fatal outcome over a 5 year period are high.

1/3 of women and 1/5 of men over 55, suffer from osteoporosis. This makes the chances of fractures and breaks much higher and a more difficult healing process.

Governments are interested in the economic burden, (their term), of dealing with falls among the over 65s.In 2005, This was nearly 11 million euro.

Of the patients who have sustained falls while in hospital, 29% will have a serious fall at home, 35% will be readmitted with fall related injuries and 5% will die within 1 month.

All a bit grim.

However, there is a lot you can do to avoid all this.

Firstly, tell your doctor if you have a fall. Many don't and doctors do not ask.

Conscious walking means paying attention while walking and also instead of leaping out of bed, tell yourself, I am now going to get up and put my feet on the floor. Give your body a chance.

Review medication. Have either your doctor or pharmacist review what you are taking.

Exercise is vital and enjoyable. While exercising, do a few stretches, give a few kicks, maybe dance a few steps. Lift one foot off the floor to improve balance. Swing your leg back and forth.

Vitamin D has been shown to be effective. The best way to get that is to walk outside.

The fresh air will be an added bonus.

Tai Chi and Yoga are also good.

Get your eyes and hearing checked.

Use the rail when going up and down steps.

Walk barefoot in the house for 15 minutes every day. Dance around the kitchen.

Read Dynamic Ageing by Katy Bowman. Great exercises for stretching your feet.

With the rise in the population of retired people, the projections for falls have been increased. Hopefully, the treatment will also be improved.

While looking at the statistics, I saw that for the over 65s, the projected number of years they can expect to live is 9-11.

Yikes, 2 of them have gone already!


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