Watch your step!

It’s slippery out there and this is the time of year we see a lot of slip and falls. Besides the accidental falls on wrists, shoulders and hips, there are 21 admissions/day in Alberta hospitals due to seniors with preventable falls.  The risk of falling and being injured in a fall increases as people age. Other factors come into play, such as eyesight, decreased activity level, strength, coordination, balance, illness, poor nutrition, medications, lack of social support, and lack of transportation to name a few. 

Research conducted by the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research estimates that 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 is likely to fall at least once a year. Alberta seniors’ falls were the leading cause of injury hospital admissions.  A 2010 study on Alberta seniors 65 and older, showed that every DAY in Alberta there were 21 fall related hospital admissions and 55 emergency visits. Every HOUR, there were more than 2 fall related emergency visits. Almost 1 out of every 3 fall related emergency visits resulted in an admission to hospital. When comparing seniors’ falls hospital admission rates for reporting provinces, Alberta had the second highest rate.  A 2009 study showed that in Canada, 38% of all seniors who were hospitalized because of a fall, sustained a hip fracture and 39% sustained other types of fractures.  Those are some astounding statistics and this is quite a concern for our health care system and the family and friends that we care for. 

Falls can have a devastating and lasting impact on an individual and are the most common cause of injury for seniors. Having a fall can cause a loss in confidence and subsequently a reduction in activities.  Many people accept that aches, pains, and weakness are an inevitable part of ageing.  Yet many of these symptoms are not the direct result of ageing, but of the physical inactivity that often goes hand in hand with getting older. Studies are showing that many aspects of the ageing process are avoidable and even reversible, by staying active. Whatever your age or ability, physical activity has an important role to play in raising and maintaining your quality of life. 

Several programs around the world are being implemented that specifically target fall prevention in seniors. The Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging (CCAA), based at the University of Western Ontario, developed a program in the 1990s. This program is called Home Support Exercise Program and is an evidence-based, in-home exercise program consisting of 10 simple exercises designed to enhance and maintain fitness, mobility, balance and independence. The exercises focus on balance retraining, strength training and a walking program. The Otago Exercise Program, developed in New Zealand and now performed in several countries around the world, is another strength and balance retraining program. This program is a set of leg muscle strengthening and balance retraining exercises designed specifically to prevent falls. Since the implementation of this program, New Zealand found a 35% reduction in the number of falls and a 35% reduction in the number of fall related injuries. 

There are other falling risk factors to consider. Dizziness is a common cause of falls for example. If you experience dizziness or being lightheaded, this may be caused by dehydration, medication, blood pressure changes or inner ear dysfunctions. Mention this to your doctor so these issues can be addressed. Vision changes – ensure you get your vision checked on a yearly basis. Clutter in the home – keep pathways clear in halls and stairways, keep areas well lit and free of clutter. Area rugs can be a hazard! Wear supportive shoes, anti slip socks and watch for ice, cracks and uneven surfaces while out walking. Avoid rushing and trying to do too many things at once. Vitamin D deficiency has been related to muscle weakness, disability, poor physical performance and cognitive impairment. So there is some evidence that vitamin D may reduce the rate of falls in those with low vitamin D levels. 

In order to reduce the risk of a fall in your future, exercise is a proven fall prevention strategy. Increased muscle strength, improved balance, and improved confidence have been found to significantly reduce both the rate and risk of falling. Walking, dancing, Tai Chi, group exercise classes or individualized home programs can boost your strength and balance, making you safer and stronger! We would like to provide an exercise class for seniors in our community at Bragg Creek Physiotherapy. If you are 65 or older, or due to other reasons would benefit from basic balance and leg strengthening, this class is for you. Coming in March, we’ll offer an hour introductory class with a warm up, basic leg strengthening exercises and balance retraining – you will learn some skills to then continue, as appropriate, in the comfort of your own home. Please contact the clinic for dates, times and details, or check out our website and facebook page. 

Jennifer Gordon (BSc.PT, AFCI, BA Kin)