July 17th, 2018

To Your Health: The factors that can lead to falls

By Gillian Slade on September 25, 2017.

Of all the people seeking help in Alberta hospital emergency departments after falling, 25 per cent are seniors.

There are a range of contributing factors for those falls. In winter there are additional hazards because of slippery surfaces but many falls take place in the home.

Side effects from certain medications such as tranquilizers, sedatives, sleeping pills, antidepressants, or antipsychotics can significantly increase your chances of falling, said Colin Zieber, executive director, seniors health and operational lead for Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Ask your pharmacist if there are things you could do to reduce the risk of falling if you are taking any of these medications. After lying down it may be appropriate for you to first sit for a while before attempting to stand up to reduce dizziness.

Other factors that can lead to falls include being physically less active, which can affect your sense of balance.

If you watch children at play, or even out for a walk, they are constantly practising balance without even realizing it. Riding a bicycle is a good balance exercise, hopping on one leg, and even walking on a low and narrow garden wall are examples of increasing their sense of balance. Seniors have to work at it. There are recreation classes that can help you focus on balance and Tai-chi is recommended in literature, said Zieber. Nordic Walking with walking poles is also recommended.

If you are not up to leaving your home for an exercise class you could work on balance while you are standing in your kitchen. Make sure you are near the counter or the back of a chair to steady yourself if needed. You could stand on one leg for a few seconds and then the other leg. Ask your doctor if this an appropriate exercise for you.

Statistics for the last year indicate six per cent of the population of seniors in AHS’s south zone, which includes Medicine Hat, experienced a fall and needed to go to the emergency department, said Zieber.

A fall, particularly for a senior, can have huge ramifications. Zieber says 26 per cent of those more than 65 years old require additional care after a fall and 14 per cent discharged from the emergency department needed additional support. A total of 64 per cent will need hospitalization compared to only 29 per cent of those younger than 65 and seven per cent of pediatrics.

Sometimes our homes have tripping hazards that contribute to the likelihood of a fall. Someone else may more easily identify the tripping hazards than you can. Remove clutter, loose and slippery mats, and perhaps even some furniture if your room is cluttered.

As we age there are likely to be medical procedures such as a hip or knee replacement. A period of inactivity and recovery from the medical procedure may take time to regain your strength and sense of balance.

The first step is to prepare for the recovery phase, says Zieber. Mental preparation even before the surgery is a good strategy. Ensuring you have the correct mobility aids like a walker or cane will also help your recovery phase. Follow your doctor’s instructions and complete any physiotherapy and exercises to regain your strength.

Ask for help, either from family members or Home Care to support you until you have regained your strength, said Zieber.

Here’s to a good sense of balance and fewer falls and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her by email on call 403-528-8635.

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