Preventing Falls

By Shawna Culleton

Perhaps you didn’t realize how far you’d let things slide until you started having to haul each foot up onto a knee to tie your shoes. (Was that a grunt of effort, or agreement, that just escaped your lips?) Or perhaps you’re the middle-aged child who watches this scene with a fearful nagging thought, Please, never let that be me. Whatever your profile, this article will give you tips for keeping your aging body healthy, strong and fit for all the stages of life.


“Start early!”

advises Susan Bowman, Manager of Rehabilitation at Deer Lodge Centre. “You don’t want to wait until you’re 80 and frail and at risk.”

Bowman says staying active and mobile is a lifelong strategy with four pillars: strength, flexibility, cardiovascular exercise and balance. The sooner you start incorporating these four pillars into your routine, the better chance you have to avoid a fall or broken bone. “Recovery is a far more difficult a path than prevention.”

Falls are one of the most common injuries driving people into Deer Lodge Centre for treatment. Once a person has fallen, they are two times more likely to fall again. In fact, one in three people over the age of 65 fall at least once a year. But older people aren’t the only ones at risk of falling, says Bowman: “Anyone can trip over their dog or slip on an icy surface.” Your physical fitness will influence how well and how quickly you recover from that fall.

Fall patients have the longest stays in hospitals due to injury. “The average stay is 33 days,” says Raimey Kotz, a fall prevention instructor. “Immobility after a broken bone can lead to spiralling secondary complications that make it difficult to recover your pre-fall state of health and lifestyle.”

Deer Lodge offers a fall prevention class to its inpatient rehabilitation clients. Some of the daily strategies recommended by the instructors include:

  1. Wear shoes inside the house. Safe, supportive foot-wear for indoor use will help reduce your risk of falling, as well as back and knee pain.
  2. Put night-lights in your bedroom and hallways. They aren’t just for the monsters under the bed. Lighting your path to the bathroom or your midnight snack can really reduce your risk of falling.
  3. Practice your one-legged balance. Start practicing or maintaining balance in early adulthood. As you age, or if you are new to balance exercises, hold onto a counter for support. Try it for a few moments every time you get a drink or brush your teeth.
  4. Integrate 30 minutes of moderate activity into your daily life. Take several 10-minute walks throughout the day. Remember, activities like housework and garden-ing count if you keep your effort moderate. Integration is the key to creating lasting habits!

If you think that you or a loved one are at risk of falling, consult your medical professional about getting access to the proper program for your needs and abilities. Physiotherapy is also a great resource to show you how to safely exercise at any age and through any limitation.

No excuses!


Balance exercises to do in your home

These exercises can be done at the kitchen counter or table.

WALK STANCE

  1. Stand next to a sturdy table or counter for support.
  2. Place one foot in front of the other with a 10 cm gap between the toe of your back foot and heel of your front foot.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat with the other foot in front.

For increased difficulty:

  1. Use your hands less for support.
  2. Place your back and front foot closer together.
  3. Repeat it twice on each leg.
  4. Slowly walk heel to toe alongside a table or counter.

LEG SIDE LIFT

  1. Stand next to a sturdy table or counter for support.
  2. Keep your toes pointing forward, lift one leg out to the side, and hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Slowly lower your leg back to the ground.
  4. Repeat with the other leg.
  5. Do this 8 times.

For increased difficulty:

  1. Use your hands less for support.
  2. Slowly walk sideways alongside a table or bench, first to your left and then to your right.

TOE RAISE

  1. Stand next to a sturdy table or counter for support.
  2. Raise onto your toes by lifting both heels off the ground, and hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Slowly lower your heels back to the ground.
  4. Do this 5 times.

For increased difficulty:

  1. Use your hands less for support.
  2. Stand on your right leg and raise onto your toes.
  3. Repeat on your left leg.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

KNEE LIFT

  1. Stand next to a sturdy table or counter for support.
  2. Lift your foot off the ground and hold it for 5 seconds.
  3. Repeat with the other foot.
  4. Do this 8 times on each leg.

For increased difficulty:

  1. Use your hands less for support.
  2. Lift your knee to hip level.
  3. Hold it for 10 seconds.

SIT-TO-STAND

  1. Sit in a chair with arm rests.
  2. Scoot your bottom to the front edge of the chair and put your hands on the arm rests.
  3. Place your feet hip width apart.
  4. Lean forward and stand up slowly.
  5. Slowly lower yourself to sit back into the chair.
  6. Do this 5 times.

For increased difficulty:

  1. Use your hands less for support.
  2. Repeat it 10 times.

Source: Staying on Your Feet: Taking Steps to Prevent Falls booklet published by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the Province of Manitoba (2015).