Posted on 31/10/2018

The frightening reality of falls

The frightening reality of falls

Falls happen to everyone from time to time, no matter your age or physical ability – but when you do have a fall it can be a scary experience that affects your health, confidence and sense of wellbeing.

In this blog, we’re facing the facts about falls and presenting three real-life case studies, to help you understand how falls occur, the after-effects that people have to deal with, and how to prevent them from happening.

Facts about falls

Falls are really common amongst older generations and most falls result in a few bruises, feeling a little shocked and maybe some discomfort for a while.

By the time we reach the age of 65, statistics show we’re more likely to have a fall, and we’re also more likely to injury ourselves as a result. According to research, 30% of people aged 65 and over fall at least once a year and this figure is as high as 50% for over 80’s. There are over 250,000 fall-related hospital admissions a year for people aged 65 and over, and falls are the main cause of injury in England, resulting in annual costs of over £2.3bn to the NHS. This doesn’t take into account the cost of social care for older people who need support to live at home as a result of fractures from falls, which is likely to be in the region of £5bn.

What causes falls?

Falls can occur due to simple accidents that could have been prevented, caused by things such as slippery floors, loose rugs, reaching too high to get into cupboards, tripping on the stairs, walking around in poorly lit rooms or wandering at night.

The bones of the human body become more fragile over time, so a slip or trip that may have once caused a bit of soreness or aching can actually lead to fractures with varying degrees of severity as we get older. Older people are also more likely to have osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones weaker, and many people only find out they are living with this condition when a fall causes a fracture.

There are many other health issues that make some older people more likely to have a fall, such as visual impairments, balance problems, alcohol use, side effects from medications, and feeling dizzy or lightheaded, the latter of which could be related to problems with blood pressure. People with chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, dementia, and arthritis are also more likely to experience falls as a result of their symptoms or mobility difficulties.

Fall stories and ways to help prevent falls

We think the best way to raise awareness of all things related to health and wellbeing is to acknowledge the personal experiences of others, so we’ve spoken to three people who have had a fall and are happy to share their stories. We’ve also taken advice from one of our Occupational Therapists (OTs) about how to prevent falls like those experienced by Rob, Jennifer and Krishnee…

Our OT says:

It’s normal to feel embarrassed about falling, but there really is no shame in it. Lots of people have falls just through bad luck or accident. Osteoporosis is slightly more common in women, but many men have it too. Some people find that this condition improves with exercise and healthy diet, as well as medication. Rob could help prevent falls in the future by:

  • 1. Taking away that rug (or at least sealing down the edges) and wearing well-fitting shoes (or having bare feet) around the house, assessing the house for other trip hazards (such as trailing wires and clutter) and ensuring good lighting around the home.

  • 2. Taking on board the advice he should have received in hospital about leading a healthy lifestyle to help manage his osteoporosis. He should also visit his GP for advice on how to get his blood pressure under control through better diet, exercise and a medication review. Even though this fall may have had no links to his high blood pressure, it is a risk factor for a second fall. He should also consider his physical fitness and explore options for building his muscle strength, which will, in turn, aid his balance and strength. He could ask his GP to refer him to a physiotherapy service.

  • 3. Consider using simple daily living aids like a household trolley or tray to push or carry drinks and meals around the home. There are lots of options as well for lighting the house to ensure good visibility.

Our OT says:

Having a fall can be a frightening experience for some people, especially if they sustained a serious injury, so it’s understandable Jennifer still feels anxious. She may feel more comfortable taking a bath when her husband is in the house for a while, until she becomes more confident again. She may also benefit from carrying a mobile phone to the bathroom with her or installing a simple emergency alarm with a waterproof panic button, just in case she does fall again or experiences difficulties whilst in the bathroom or another room in the house.

Jennifer may need to consult a physiotherapist to assess her mobility, as her osteoarthritis may be causing problems with balance, walking and strength. She may be advised to use a mobility aid, such as a walking stick or rollator, to take the pressure off swollen or painful joints. She should ask her GP to refer her for an assessment.

Jennifer may wish to consider using daily living aids in the bathroom, which I feel would really help her to feel more confident again. Here are the key daily living aids that I would suggest Jennifer considers using and I would encourage her to call our free product advice helpline on 0345 121 8111, so we can narrow down the options and find the right solutions to suit her needs. There may be other areas of her life that are causing difficulty, which I may also be able to help find solutions for.

  • 1. Grab rails – these screw fix to solid walls, and Jennifer could position these on the walls next to the bath, toilet or anywhere around the home where she may need a little extra support.

  • 2. Bath support rails – these clamp to the side of the bath, providing a place to hold on to when getting in and out.

  • 3. Bath board and bath seat – to continue bathing safely, it may help if Jennifer placed a bath board across the width of her tub. This would enable her to sit on the board at the edge of the bath, before slowly lifting her legs one at a time over the tub and using the board as a transfer point onto a bath seat. The latter is positioned inside the bath, and would mean Jennifer doesn’t have to bend to sit at the bottom of the tub, resulting in less strain on her joints when lowering into and rising out of the bath.

  • 4. Bath lift – if Jennifer’s arthritis gets worse, or she feels like she needs additional support to take a bath, she may wish to consider a motorised bath lift, which operates via a hand control and would lower her down into the bath before lifting her back up again.

  • 5. Shower stool – if Jennifer has a shower, she may decide to start using this instead of her bath. Placing a shower stool in the cubicle would give her a seat to rest on if she felt unbalanced or needed to lessen the pressure on her knee joints for a short while.

I’d also advise Jennifer to take a look at our interactive house, which suggests other daily living aids that may help with falls prevention and generally make everyday tasks easier at home.

Our OT says:

Krishnee was lucky not break a bone when she fell, although I’m sure it still hurt for a while afterwards! My advice to Krishnee on falls prevention would be:

  • 1. Visit your GP for a health check and an optician to check your vision. Krishnee thinks she ‘stumbled’ over the pavement, which could have been purely by accident, but it’s best to rule out other potential medical causes or visual impairments. She says she is active, which is great, but she may have issues with balance, strength or walking style of which she is unaware, and a physiotherapist could check these for her.

  • 2. Stay aware of uneven surfaces when walking and take extra care in wet or icy weather. Ensure your shoes are well fitting and have good grip, and avoid carrying lots of shopping or a heavy handbag as these could throw off your centre of balance. Krishnee could consider a shopping trolley to pull along, if she has no mobility difficulties. She should also ensure she has a mobile phone or personal alarm, in case she falls again when she is on her own and needs assistance.

  • 3. Do a home assessment. Just like I advised Rob, everyone should take time to check their homes for potential fall hazards. There may be a local home hazard assessment service in Krishnee’s area that she could contact.

We hope that sharing the experiences of Rob, Jennifer and Krishnee has helped raise awareness of how easy it is to fall, how frightening it can be and how to alleviate fears with good fall prevention strategies that we can all undertake to help reduce our risk of falling.

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